Bad news for those who are counting on B.C.'s carbon tax to help green up the planet.
And equally bad news for those who argue it was a plot by the greenies to scuttle the B.C. economy when Gordon Campbell's government decided in 2008 to shift from taxing income so heavily and instead put a modest levy on carbon emissions.
It turns out the tax hasn't had much impact on either the environment or economy, according to not only the considered opinions of a cross-section of British Columbians who represent a wide range of industries and interests, but also a poll that randomly sampled the public.
This is the short story from a report released Monday by the Pembina Institute. It summarizes detailed interviews with 39 British Columbians — I was one — and it compares the responses to a poll of 830 citizens done last year by Strategic Communications Inc.
Almost two-thirds of the interviewees held positive views of the impact of the tax shift in B.C., and 15 per cent were neutral. The public was less enthusiastic — eight per cent very positive and 25 per cent somewhat positive — but by the far the largest number of respondents, 41 per cent, were neutral.
Drilling down into the interview results, 67 per cent saw no evidence the carbon tax motivates better technologies and behaviours.
As for economic impact, 82 per cent saw no evidence the tax was creating a competitive advantage in B.C. and 77 per cent saw no evidence of negative impacts.
Not surprisingly, the minority who cited negative impacts focused on two kinds of businesses: those that are greenhouse-gas intensive and find their corporate tax cuts are smaller than the new levies on carbon, and unprofitable companies that don't benefit from corporate tax cuts because they don't have any taxable income.
With the carbon tax rate frozen at $30 a tonne until a government review is complete, the most interesting question was what happens next. Should the tax go up, down or stay the same?
Among the interviewees, 41 per cent favoured an increase, 35 per cent said hold steady and 14 per cent said reduce it. The poll recorded 29 per cent in favour of increasing the tax and 51 per cent opposed.
As well, 59 per cent of interviewees wanted the carbon tax base broadened and five per cent did not.
Reading between the lines, it seems unlikely the carbon tax will be the hot-button issue in the next election that it was in the last, when the Liberals championed it and the NDP were opposed.
But the two parties still might find something to fight about.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix has long-since backpeddled on former leader Carole James's opposition to the tax, but he's not a fan of the Liberal pledge to keep it revenue neutral.
The Campbell government, which cited revenue neutrality as an unbending principle, actually took a hit on net revenue because cutting both income and corporate taxes, plus providing rebates for low-income British Columbians, cost more than the tax brought in.
But Dix would spend the revenue on greenhouse-gas reducing projects — more transit, for example — not tax cuts.
Surprisingly to me, British Columbians appear to be OK with that.
Nearly 90 per cent of the interviewees chose "investing in projects that reduce emissions" as their first, second or third of seven choices for how to spend any additional revenue. And 49.2 per cent of those polled said essentially the same thing.