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B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan calls for party unity amid carbon-tax tussle

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan acknowledges his party has grappled with its carbon-tax policy but says it has come to a stable position ahead of the May provincial election thanks to a new generation of MLAs and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon-pricing policies.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan acknowledges his party has grappled with its carbon-tax policy but says it has come to a stable position ahead of the May provincial election thanks to a new generation of MLAs and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's carbon-pricing policies.

"If we divide ourselves on carbon pricing then we're going to have more internal wrestling and that, again, is what we do very well in the NDP," Mr. Horgan told a Broadbent Institute event on the environment on Monday. "We have to put that aside."

Mr. Horgan's musings in a speech and subsequent on-stage interview with environmentalist Tzeporah Berman, referenced the 2009 election that saw the party sharply opposed to the tax enacted by the B.C. Liberal government of then-premier Gordon Campbell and widely supported by environmentalists.

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Carole James, then the leader of the provincial NDP, found herself at odds over the tax with such proponents as prominent environmentalist David Suzuki and even former B.C. NDP premier Mike Harcourt. Mr. Campbell and his Liberals eventually won their third straight majority government. In a Facebook posting following Monday's event, Ms. Berman herself recalled that she came out against the NDP over their "axe the tax" policy.

Mr. Horgan recalled all of this and pivoted to the path ahead for his party. The B.C. New Democrats will release their climate-change plan in coming weeks which the party will then take on the campaign trail as it seeks to return to power in British Columbia for the first time since the Liberals won in 2001.

Mr. Horgan said carbon pricing was a "challenge" for his party due to fears that it would negatively affect rural British Columbians, who have to travel longer distances than their urban counterparts so would pay more.

He wryly said the debate was emblematic of policy development in the party.

"We like to wrestle with each other. Disagreeing is kind of a … sport for New Democrats," he said. "We often come together in times of difficulty and grapple overly much."

Specifically referring to David Eby, Melanie Mark and Selina Robinson, he said a new generation of B.C. NDP MLAs – as well as new candidates – are pushing the party to come to conclusions and proceed. "I think that's what we're doing," he said.

The result will be a climate-change policy that will be "sellable" across British Columbia and focused on the bottom line of reducing emissions which Mr. Horgan deemed the only credible measure for success.

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The NDP has said the carbon tax, which is used to fund tax cuts, is too low to have an impact in reducing emissions and needs to be adjusted in a way that is fairer for low- and middle-income families as well as rural British Columbians.

Although the environment was Monday's topic, Mr. Horgan said the NDP platform for the 2017 election will be intensely focused on issues of affordability. He declined to elaborate on specific policies.

Last August, B.C. Liberal Premier Christy Clark ruled out an increase to the carbon tax, ignoring the recommendations of a group of environmentalists, academics, businesspeople and First Nations representatives that the government had appointed. The Climate Leadership team had suggested raising the carbon tax by $10 per tonne every year beginning in 2018. The tax, now at $30 per tonne, has not been adjusted since 2012.

In December, Ms. Clark's government signed on to a pan-Canadian climate-change framework that included a commitment either to a carbon tax that would rise to $50 per tonne by 2022 or a cap-and-trade system that would have to meet federal emission-reduction standards.

On climate change and carbon pricing, the B.C NDP leader offered a nod to Mr. Trudeau – ironic as he is at odds with the Prime Minister over federal approval of the expansion to the Trans Mountain pipeline between Alberta and the Lower Mainland.

Mr. Horgan said the landscape on carbon pricing has changed because of the arrival of Mr. Trudeau's government and its commitment to a national pricing plan on carbon.

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Canada is in a different place nationally, he said, which allows for a focus on such issues.

"We need to follow the national lead of the Liberals on a national pricing regime and we need to look at other ways that we can do good work here in British Columbia at the sub-national level to make sure we can continue to be a leader, not a laggard."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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