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Rob Shaw: Eye-rolling, flip-flopping, sense-defying B.C. party debate on the carbon tax

Common sense takes a break as the BC United and NDP roll in a pit of hypocrisy, Rob Shaw writes
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Parties engaged in a misleading war of words as BC United called for a rollback of the carbon tax on home heating, Rob Shaw writes.

It’s hard not to roll your eyes listening to the BC NDP and BC United debate the carbon tax.

The party that introduced the innovative tax on pollution 15 years ago now says it should be cut or killed entirely, while the party that ran an election campaign to scrap it now wants it to be preserved at any cost.

Somewhere in between is a common-sense path forward, as our province seeks to chart its way through the mess Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left last week by choosing to exempt parts of the country from the carbon tax on home heating oil.

Yet neither B.C. party was close to hitting the mark Tuesday.

What we got instead was a misleading war of words and duelling political talking-points that took things to the absurd.

BC United leader Kevin Falcon was up first Tuesday, asking Prime Minister David Eby if he intends to follow Ottawa and exempt home heating oil from B.C.’s carbon tax (B.C. gets to set some rules because its carbon tax pre-dates the federal version).

“British Columbians cannot afford to pay even more in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis,” Falcon said during question period.

“Rather than adopting sensible, pragmatic solutions, this premier doubles down on yearly hikes that will hammer the final nails in the coffins of affordability here in British Columbia.”

Falcon demanded to know whether Eby intends to follow the federal schedule to triple the carbon tax to $170 a tonne by 2030. Eby refused to answer.

“I guess the theme of the past couple of weeks has been Liberal leaders facing difficult poll results flip flopping on the carbon tax,” the premier shot back.

“The member is well aware of the fact that pricing carbon is the right way to deal with climate change,” added Eby. “He has just lost the courage of his convictions.”

The premier may end up eating those words if, under public pressure, he has to also exempt home heating fuels from the carbon tax this winter.

In fact, the NDP may end up following a BC United promise Tuesday to not only exempt oil furnaces but also those that run on cleaner-burning natural gas and propane.

That position was part of a series of reforms BC United released, including scrapping the provincial fuel tax on gasoline and diesel, as well as freezing the existing carbon tax rate at $65 a tonne and refusing to raise it further with Ottawa in the future.

“These measures reflect BC United's commitment to delivering common sense solutions to tackle B.C.’s most pressing affordability challenges,” said Falcon.

The total cost of BC United’s promises exceeds $4.7 billion over the next three years.

“Where's that money going to come from?” asked Eby.

“What schools, teachers, hospitals, health care workers, are they going to get rid of to pay for this commitment to British Columbians?

“They are well aware that there's not $5 billion lying around the couch in the province of British Columbia.”

The indignant shock at the idea of spending $5 billion on a tax cut to help British Columbians would probably have more credibility if the NDP government wasn’t already on track to post its own $14 billion deficit over the next three years.

New Democrats are offended any time you ask them how they plan to fund their promises. They are in no position to lecture anybody about fiscal restraint.

Only the BC Greens and Conservatives have clean hands and clear positions on the carbon tax — the Greens want it to increase in price, the Conservatives want it scrapped entirely.

The NDP and United are fighting for the muddy middle ground, while rolling in a pit of hypocrisy.

Falcon was a minister in the 2008 BC Liberal government that brought in the carbon tax, and called it one of his proudest moments of his career. On Tuesday, he said he’d kill the whole thing entirely if federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre wins the next election and ends the federal version.

Eby leads a party that in 2009 ran an “axe the tax” campaign to kill the carbon tax, calling it unaffordable. On Tuesday, he said the tax is now so vital he’ll keep it in place even if Otttawa abandons it amidst an affordability crisis.

“Mr. Premier did a double backflip,” said Falcon.

“I have no idea what that man stands for,” said Eby.

Pity the voter who has to figure out the mess of contradictory positions and hypocrisy on the carbon tax from those two parties in the next election.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. rob@robshawnews.com