Most oppose carbon tax
Anti-tax sentiment a potential threat to Liberals ahead of election, pollster says
Jonathan Fowlie, Vancouver Sun
Published: Wednesday, June 18, 2008
VICTORIA -- A majority of British Columbians oppose the B.C. Liberal government's carbon tax, a new poll reveals.
Ipsos Reid has found that 59 per cent of those polled are against the new tax -- set to begin July 1 with a 2.4-cent-per-litre increase in the price of gasoline -- with just under half of the respondents saying they oppose it "strongly."
Opposition to the tax is greatest in the Interior, followed by the Lower Mainland and then the rest of mainland B.C.
The poll comes as gas prices approach $1.50 a litre, and just as New Democratic Party leader Carole James kicked off her "axe the tax" campaign in Kelowna Tuesday.
She argued that Premier Gordon Campbell's carbon tax places too much pressure on B.C. consumers.
On Tuesday, Ipsos Reid vice-president Kyle Braid said the almost 60-per-cent opposition shows the carbon tax is a potentially dangerous issue for the Liberals, who hope to retain majority support heading into next spring's election.
"I think the danger here is this is the first issue where the door has been opened for Carole James to talk to Liberal voters about an issue on which she actually aligns with their views," he said, adding 56 per cent of Liberal supporters in the poll said they were against the carbon tax.
"It doesn't mean, necessarily, she will be able to communicate it in a way that convinces people she has a better idea," he said, "but at least it's an opportunity that she hasn't had up until now."
The poll, which saw 800 adults questioned June 5-10, shows that public unhappiness with the tax hasn't meant more support for the NDP.
Though opposition to the tax has grown -- a similar poll taken by Ipsos Reid when the tax was announced in February pegged opposition at only 52 per cent -- people have not turned against the premier or the government that introduced the idea.
The poll shows the Liberals have the support of 47 per cent of decided voters, a number slightly above what they've held throughout the past year.
The NDP has 33-per-cent support, down three points from this time last year.
The seatless Green Party remained steady at 16-per-cent support, a level it has essentially held for the past year as well.
"I think the most important number is that at this point the vote hasn't changed one iota, despite the fact a lot of people knew this [the carbon tax] was coming," said Braid.
"It's been discussed since February and it hasn't had any impact whatsoever."
Braid said any new tax is bound to be unpopular, so it is difficult to determine what the current opposition will actually mean for any party's political fortunes.
"You shouldn't read too much into the opposition here," he said.
"You could insert any kind of tax and you'd probably see a 40/60 split, maybe even worse."
The poll numbers are considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute, a national environmental advocacy group, said he was surprised by the poll results, especially given another recent poll commissioned by his group showed 64 per cent support for the tax in B.C.
Horne said the change in opinion might have to do with recent publicity around the tax.
"There has been fairly strong, and in a number of cases inaccurate, opposition to the carbon tax, which I think could be skewing people's perceptions," he said.
"I've seen some language around the idea of giving industry a free ride and although not all industrial emissions are covered, about two-thirds are," he said.
Horne said people might also have some concerns about whether the tax is the right way to achieve a proper reduction to carbon emissions.
Campbell could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Speaking earlier in the week, he strongly defended the tax, saying it will be fair for all people in B.C.
"This is the first tax in the history of the country that I'm aware of where all of the revenue is being used to reduce other taxes," Campbell said in an interview on Monday.
"Every family in British Columbia is going to be ahead of the game at the end of this year in terms of tax."
On Tuesday, James said the Ipsos Reid poll numbers show Campbell is "out of touch."
"The premier is arrogant about this issue in saying to people: 'just get used to it,' or, 'we all have to do our part.' It shows he doesn't get the difficulties they are facing," she said.
"The carbon tax numbers show me people are starting to pay attention."
James said she feels party support numbers will soon follow.
"I think there's always a gap between when something takes effect and the general polling numbers," she said, adding people are starting to pay more attention now that the tax is weeks away from hitting the pumps.
"You didn't see this kind of anger a couple of months ago. In fact, we've had a few polls that show there is support out there for the carbon tax," she said.
"People are angry. They are really angry."
Campbell's personal approval ratings have held steady at 49 per cent, a level he has held since last year.
James, whose approval rating was 50 per cent in March 2008, has seen it climb to 55 per cent, the same level it was at in December after last fall's sitting of the legislature.
The poll also shows James has some appeal among B.C. Liberals, with 46 per cent of Liberal voters saying they approve of the way she's performed as leader of the opposition. Campbell does not enjoy the same crossover appeal -- only 16 per cent of NDP voters approve of his performance.
Meanwhile, a separate Ipsos Reid poll conducted for Global BC found that 71 per cent of British Columbians expect to pay more on the carbon tax than they will get back from the government through income tax cuts and the climate action dividend.
"There's pretty clear evidence people don't think this carbon tax is going to be revenue neutral for them," said Braid.
"The government has not yet communicated to people where some of the savings will be."
Fifteen per cent of those polled said they didn't know if they would be paying more or less once the "revenue-neutral" tax was in place.
The poll for Global BC also found that only five per cent of people are planning to use their $100 climate action dividend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Sixty-four per cent said they would spend, save or invest it "like I would any other income." Eight per cent plan to treat themselves to something they would not have otherwise purchased.
The Global BC poll, conducted June 11-16, involved 700 adults, and is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.