Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Carbon taxes aren’t merely pointless, they’re regressive. Politicians earn ‘green’ cred by making life worse for the poor.
When Canadian drivers fill up our gas tanks, 35% of the price we now pay is tax. If the average tank holds 64 litres, every time we gas up at $1 a litre, we’re handing over $22 not to the producers and distributors of this product, but to the government (see p. 4 here).
Since poor people have less money overall, taking $22 from them at the pump is a big deal. Via gasoline taxes, the poor are forced to pay a higher share of their income just to do ordinary things such as get to work, drop their kids at daycare, fetch groceries, and visit ailing relatives. This is called regressive taxation.
Here in Canada, we already pay two levels of sales tax, plus two or three excise taxes whenever we refuel our cars. In some jurisdictions, we also pay public transit taxes and carbon taxes (see p. 10). Still more of these are headed our way. The province of Alberta will be adding a carbon tax not only to gasoline, but to home heating bills. The province of Ontario is considering similar measures. So is our federal government.
We’re told that all of this is necessary in order to fight climate change. The theory is that, when taxes increase, people will use less gasoline and the climate will be saved. But we all know that’s not how things really work. When the $22 in tax we pay every time we gas up becomes $25 or $30, more affluent families will absorb the increase. They won’t be happy, but it won’t diminish their horizons.
It’s poor people, the ones already pinching their pennies, whose lives will be made more miserable. Since driving to work isn’t negotiable, there will be less money in these households for food, clothes, eyeglasses, dentists, and skating lessons for the kids. There will be fewer family vacations, and narrower prospects. As the end of the month approaches and the bills loom large, stress and conflict will be amplified.
All of this additional misery will be utterly pointless. What governments never tell us is that every Canadian man, woman, and child could stop emitting carbon dioxide altogether and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. Our entire nation emits less than two percent of the worldwide total. China, by comparison, emits 23%.
Canadian emissions don’t matter. We could all shiver in hovels without gasoline or electricity for the rest of our lives. We could all stop driving and flying. We could all eschew the perishable and non-perishable goods currently being delivered to our communities via trucks, trains, and ships. None of it would affect the big picture.
Politicians see carbon taxes as a way to earn green halos in the saviour-of-the-planet fantasy films that run inside their own heads. But people who make themselves look good by increasing the suffering of others aren’t heroes. They’re contemptible narcissists.