BRIAN KIERAN: NDP needs to kill tax-shifting scam

Even though retiring Auditor General John Doyle is Australia bound, he remains determined to save us from ourselves.

Even though retiring Auditor General John Doyle is Australia bound, he remains determined to save us from ourselves. His latest treatise is a damning exposé of a multi-million dollar Liberal shell game that was sold as a brave assault on greenhouse gases (GHGs).

In his report, An Audit of Carbon Neutral Government, Doyle reveals that B.C.’s carbon trading regime, established by former premier Gordon Campbell in 2007, is little more than a tax-shifting scam that dispenses corporate welfare to less-than-needy business barons.

Campbell had called on government agencies to reduce carbon emissions to zero. Making that goal a reality required some fancy political dance steps because you can’t operate hospitals and schools without leaving a carbon footprint. Presto, the Liberals created a Crown corporation, the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT), to greenwash punitive carbon taxes for the benefit of savvy corporations that would reap the benefits.

Last August, in this space, I raised a GHG red flag reporting that the PCT had magically claimed to have achieved “carbon neutrality for the provincial government.” Behind this bravado lay the real story. In 2011 only 12 private enterprises bought carbon credits worth a paltry $54,000. The rest of the PCT’s $14-million budget was funded by taxpayers with precious resources siphoned from classrooms, hospitals and social services.

Greater Victoria’s school districts and the Vancouver Island Health Authority contributed more than $1.15 million to PCT. That’s money that should have stayed in local school and hospital budgets.

Now Doyle has found that the majority of offsets purchased to meet GHG targets in 2010 (the year he examined) “were not credible.” The audit examined two projects that accounted for 70 per cent of offsets purchased by government to achieve the claim of carbon neutrality: The Darkwoods Forest Carbon project in the Kootenays and the Encana Underbalanced Drilling project near Fort Nelson.

“Offsets can only be credible in British Columbia if, among other things, the revenue from their sale is the tipping point in moving forward on a project. It must be an incentive, not a subsidy, for the reduction of GHGs,” Doyle wrote. “However, neither project was able to demonstrate that the sale of offsets was needed for the project to be implemented.”

Doyle also commented on “the unprecedented level of interference” he encountered in the course of his investigation. “I was astonished to have to expend my office’s limited resources responding to an orchestrated campaign of delay and interference led by a public sector entity on behalf of market interests.”

The question now is: what do we do about this sham Crown entity? We know the Liberals have no appetite for leadership so close to the election. That leaves the NDP, the government-in-waiting.

Adrian Dix should be all over this when he assumes the premiership. Giving rich corporations tax-generated handouts to fight GHGs should be politically offensive to the NDP. So far, all we’ve seen is a testy letter to PCT from NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston who claims the Crown corporation hired a PR firm to harass Doyle. Mercy, call 911.

That’s it? Finger wagging? The Trust should be dismantled. I wonder if Dix will have the political cajones to do that? I suspect he won’t. I fear the PCT will survive and its revenue windfalls will be steered away from the corporate welfare bums toward a bunch of equally undeserving goofy green initiatives. M

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