The B.C. Liberal government is taking aim at global warming, announcing plans to cut current levels of greenhouse gas emissions by one-third by 2020.
The environment was a clear priority in the speech from the throne, read in the legislature on Tuesday by Lt.-Gov. Iona Campagnolo.
As a result, the government is doing something it did not do in its earlier climate change plan — setting specific targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The aim is to cut those emissions by 33 per cent by 2020. A climate change action team will advise the government on interim targets for 2012 and 2016. There will be a longer-term target for 2050.
The aspect of the plan that has everyone talking is the carbon tax, the first of its kind in North America. It's based on a carrot-and-stick principle that will financially reward lifestyle changes that cut emissions, and likewise hurt the wallets of consumers who don't.
Ms. Taylor's budget puts a price on greenhouse-gas emissions that is low by global market standards - just $10 per tonne to start - but it is the first jurisdiction in Canada to do so. The price will rise to $30 a tonne in five years.
It is designed to discourage use of fossil fuels to the point where it reduces a total of three million tonnes of greenhouse gases in B.C. over the next five years. That is a small fraction of the 40 million tonnes the province is supposed to eliminate by 2020.
For the first time the government put a price on the economic impact of its global-warming agenda, which this year adds up to $167-million in lost economic growth.
However, Ms. Taylor said the tax cuts are the answer to the concerns of business, because they will help B.C.'s competitive climate with some of the lowest tax rates in the country.
The budget, which contains a large section printed on green-tinted paper, offers an unusual feature: a section outlining how individuals can save money by going green. It puts a price tag on weatherizing windows, walking to work and replacing an old furnace.
Environmentalists hailed the budget as a landmark in the battle against global warming.
Jeffrey Simpson compares BC's budget to the advent of publicly-financed health insurance in Saskatchewan: a local innovation that became a groundswell for the nation.
History was made this week in British Columbia, because the Gordon Campbell/Carole Taylor budget was the most important provincial one in Canada since Saskatchewan's CCF introduced medicare.
Nothing was ever the same in health policy after that CCF budget. Public medicine became the marker planted by reformers. It took years, and in the teeth of much opposition and hesitation, but that CCF idea became the norm for the whole country.
So it will be, over time, for the Campbell/Taylor budget.
. . .
We take medicare for granted now, but we forget how hard the battle was at first in Saskatchewan, then across the country. The heresy that was medicare became a national icon, almost impervious to change.
A carbon tax will never be an icon. But the way it was done in B.C. will be the gold standard from now on.
I understand there is criticism of the plan, especially from the BC NDP, who says the budget lets corporate polluters off too lightly and places too much of the burden on individual consumers. I'd be interested in hearing more about that.
On the very positive side, David Suzuki, Canada's most noted environmentalist, is hailing the BC budget as a huge step forward.