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Carbon boondoggle robs poor to fuel rich

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Government spin is usually merely tedious. However, on occasion it slips into a deceptive state and that is where B.C.’s much-lauded “carbon neutral” status resides today.

In the recent annual report of the government-controlled Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) we read: “The most notable accomplishment of the last fiscal year . . . was the achievement of carbon neutrality for the provincial government.”

In fact, our carbon neutral status is nothing more than a tax-shifting scam that dispenses corporate welfare to less-than-needy business barons.

If you are one of the many thousands of British Columbians already ticked over the ineffective six-cent-per-litre carbon tax on fuel, you will be thrilled to know that your health and education taxes are being used to finance the PCT boondoggle.

Gordon Campbell-inspired legislation in 2007 called on government agencies to reduce carbon emissions to zero, a smoke and mirrors accounting exercise because you can’t operate hospitals and schools without leaving a carbon footprint. So, the Liberals cobbled together the PCT, a Crown corporation that would turn the magic of taxation mathematics into a greener B.C. in which savvy corporations would reap all the benefits.

PCT’s job is to find public and private money to buy carbon credits and reinvest the cash on greenhouse gas reduction projects. Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Tax Federation, says: “Only 12 private companies or individuals bought carbon credits last year for a measly $54,050. The rest of the Trust’s $14 million budget was funded exclusively by taxpayers, taking money out of our pockets, classrooms, hospitals and social services.”

In the Greater Victoria area those tax dollars included $870,000 (including HST) from the Vancouver Island Health Authority, $170,000 from the Greater Victoria School District and $116,000 from the Sooke and Saanich school districts. That’s more than $1.15 million of our precious tax dollars that should have been earmarked for much needed upgrades to hospital and school infrastructure.

Who got the cash last year? Canfor, Interfor and Lafarge for “switching fuels;” Timberwest for “improved forest management;” and, Encana for “”state-of-the-art drilling.” Obviously, these corporate bottomline initiatives would have been undertaken regardless of PCT handouts. In fact, Bateman says the vast majority of projects were underway before the Trust decided they were worthy of taxpayer support.

“This is just corporate welfare under the guise of green washing. It should be offensive to British Columbians,” Bateman says.

The PCT taxation scam is more offensive when viewed in the context of B.C.’s global greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction efforts.

In June, Premier Christy Clark said natural gas would be classified as a clean fuel when used to power liquefied natural gas plants, and Energy Minister Rich Coleman changed the definition of “clean” in the Clean Energy Act. Now the federal government’s Emission Trends 2012 report predicts that GHG emissions from B.C. will increase by 16 metric tonnes between 2010 and 2020 because of natural gas development.

The good news is the claims of the PCT have come to the attention of Auditor General John Doyle, one of the few public servants with licence to bite the hand that feeds him.

Doyle, whose recent assessment of the Liberals’ fiscal stewardship was scathing, has embarked on an “audit of carbon neutral government” designed to determine if we are actually minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and if PCT’s purchase of corporate offsets are credible.

All hail, the Republic of Doyle. M

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