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December 18, 2013

Public support for BC carbon tax declines over past year, but still over 50 percent

When British Columbia unveiled its groundbreaking new carbon tax in 2011, it was widely seen as ahead of its time and bucking what was widely considered to be the prevailing public sentiment against new taxes of any kind (even ones promising to be revenue neutral). The new tax did prove controversial, and elicited backlash from some rural communities when implemented later that year (coinciding with surging gasoline prices). And yet the carbon tax was broadly supported by BC citizens, and successfully weathered two provincial elections, and over time public acceptance has been rising.

A new survey conducted by the Environics Institute in partnership with the David Suzuki Foundation reveals a reversal of this trend, with public support for the carbon tax dropping 12 percentage points since November-December 2012. The tax is now endorsed by a bare majority (52%) of BC citizens, although this proportion remains higher than it has been since the tax came into effect in July 2008. The reason for this change over the past year is not immediately clear, although it may reflect in part the impact of a recent campaign against the carbon tax by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. What is clear from this research is that the public’s continued support for the carbon tax cannot be taken for granted. Few citizens likely have a solid understanding of how this policy measure works and its effectiveness in reducing provincial greenhouse gas emissions, and this makes it vulnerable to attacks that portray it as yet another government tax grab lightening consumers’ wallets.   

Elsewhere in Canada, there continues to be remarkably sustained public support for the introduction of a BC style provincial carbon tax, at levels that are now above that recorded in B.C.  More than half of Canadians outside of BC would support this type of climate change policy, down marginally from late 2011 and 2012, but still above the proportions expressing this view in earlier years. Public support for a carbon tax is stronger in eastern Canada than in the west, but the latest decline is primarily in Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, while rising marginally in Atlantic Canada and Alberta. These results provide further evidence that public resistance does not represent a major obstacle to the introduction of a provincial carbon tax in Canada. Climate change is a significant issue for many Canadians, and they are looking first to governments for leadership in finding solutions; a modest tax on fuel consumption may prove to be an effective means of meeting these expectations.

The  survey is based on telephone interviews conducted with 2,003 Canadians between October 1 and 17, 2013. A sample of this size drawn from the population produces results accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points in 19 out of 20 samples. The B.C. sample is 250 (margin of sampling error is +/-6.2% in 19 of 20 samples).

Read the full report

Read op-ed by Ian Bruce in Vancouver Sun


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