BC’s budget is immoral and dangerous, neglecting our most urgent crisis

The 2013 budget for British Columbia shows the Liberal government does not comprehend the urgent environmental, economic and social crises that beset the province and planet.

A few highlights in the budget:

  • An acknowledgement from the government that BC’s carbon tax is reducing harmful fossil fuel use, but an inexcusable lack of action on climate change otherwise.
  • No scheduled increases to the carbon tax, making it very difficult for businesses, organizations and households to budget and plan for necessary carbon reduction work. This means the cost of reducing our emissions to a safer level in the future (if possible) will be more expensive, unpredictable, and urgent.
  • $20 million in legislated carbon tax avoidance for carbon-intensive greenhouse growers, disappointingly lablelled as “carbon tax relief”.
  • $46 million cut from higher education spending, despite political bleating about a skills shortage.
  • A small corporate tax rate hike and a temporary increase to the income tax rate for the wealthiest British Columbians (which some have framed as political maneuvering, outflanking the center-left New Democrats). Too little, too late, and these should have been accompanied by a carbon tax increase and new taxes on carbon-intensive luxury items, like private planes.
  • Even with the corporate tax increase, human persons and their families will pay as much in health care premiums alone as corporations will pay in this tax.
  • No mention of decarbonization, climate change adaptation, or emergency and extreme weather preparedness. Among a long list of other ignored needs.

CCPA and Pembina have provided good summaries and more will surely come out later this week. Vaughn Palmer describes the budget as full of fiscal and political “tricks” to create the illusion of a “balanced budget”.

CCPA-BC economist Iglika Ivanova says of the budget:

“The Finance Minister talks about the need for continued discipline, for tough choices to control spending. But years of tax cuts have created unnecessary and avoidable fiscal constraint. We’ve starved key public services and left many of our social and environmental needs unmet. Those are real deficits that we don’t hear about.”

Without diminishing the important and related unmet social needs referred to by Ivanova, I am most distressed about the environmental deficit. Environmental degradation, resource depletion, and the alteration of atmospheric composition were simply ignored by this budget, unless it was to (re-)offer favour businesses “carbon tax relief” or hype “long-term opportunities” in natural gas export.

The government’s emphasis on “prudence” in the budget, then, is a shameful and dangerous deception. What could be more imprudent than ignoring the severe human and economic toll of the extreme weather emergencies seen in just the last year? Or acknowledging the urgent risk of global warming while offering nothing new to prepare or mitigate that risk?

The IEA says the world’s carbon budget run will dry by 2017, meaning runaway climate change that could severely alter or end human civilization may be unstoppable — unless we act within the window of the current BC budget.

We cannot wait. Not for an election. Not for (another and another and another) “Pearl Harbour“.

Government’s failure to responsibly act on the climate crisis is unforgivable. We’ve seen scores of catalytic events that should have pushed the government into action. No doubt we’ll see more before the month is done.

This crisis is urgent. This inaction is simply immoral and dangerous.