Editorial: Dastardly dividend

By Ryan Pike

Since the Industrial Revolution, fossil fuels have had many uses. For the past century or so, one of the main uses has been to fuel our motorcars. Unfortunately, years of sustained use of a non-renewable resource have put the world in a bit of a quandary as gasoline prices and CO2 emissions are much higher than anybody really wants them to be. These two realities have led governments around the world to take action in varying ways.

In Alberta, home of the Athabasca tarsands and a projected $12 billion budget surplus as a result of sky-high oil prices, government officials have opted not to introduce a formal carbon tax, instead relying upon a surcharge on pollutors to trickle through the market. However, their western neighbours in British Columbia have not only introduced a carbon tax on gasoline of 2.5 cents per litre beginning July 1, they’ve also gone the extra mile for their constituents. Premier Gordon Campbell has instituted a program known as Climate Action Dividends, where British Columbians will be given a $100 cheque and encouragement to make sound environmental choices with it.

The move by the B.C. government, carrying a price tag of $440 million, has been met with some harsh criticism. First and foremost, Campbell was elected in 2001 under a platform including tax reductions aimed at stimulating the economy. By pairing a $100 pay-out to his constituents along with a tax that will surely be worth more in the long haul, it comes across as a bribe to taxpayers. Even so, this bribe won’t even cover a load of groceries or more than a tank of gas. The program also takes $440 million that could’ve been used by the government to finance or subsidize environmental causes and puts it into the hands of consumers that may lack the same discipline. Much like a mother giving a child lunch money and hoping it isn’t spent on candy, the only thing keeping British Columbians from frivolous spending is good old-fashioned guilt.

If Campbell and his government are really serious about taking action to help the environment, there are much better ways to do it. Providing better baseline funding for environmental programs in the province would be a good step, but even under the umbrella of the Climate Action Dividend plenty of things can be done. This involves changing the program from dishing out dividends to providing rebates. Instead of shelling out money and hoping it’s spent the right way, why not provide a fund where citizens making smart environmental choices are given a rebate for doing so? Much of the bureaucratic structure needed to facilitate such a program is already in place, so it’s unlikely much of the earmarked money would be eaten up by overhead costs. Plus, the program would ensure that money is going towards smart environmental choices, such as replacing old fluorescent lights with less wasteful ones, and not towards Pokemon cards or new rims for SUVs.

When the Alberta government shelled out $1.6 billion to taxpayers in 2005, the move was met with criticism that the money could’ve been better spent elsewhere. Similar comments have sprung up in B.C., but the stakes in B.C. are much higher: instead of being accused of throwing away Alberta’s economic prospects, the B.C. government’s lack of foresight may be jeopardizing the future of their environment.

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