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ArticleId: 2002 Written: 2008.04.16 by: Robin Tivy

Here's the letter I sent to the Vancouver Sun: ---------------- Yesterday's Vancouver Sun (April 3) featured an article by British Columbia NDP leader Carole James titled "If its out of town, he's out of touch". You can look up Carole James article in Google. I sent the following reply to her letter to the Sun, and we'll see if they print it.

RE: "Carole James carbon tax article: If its out of town, he's out of touch", (Vancouver Sun April 3)

I'm not a big BC Liberal supporter, but I don't think NDP leader Carole James is providing much leadership on the issue of carbon taxes. Her comments mostly have the effect of undermining the initiative, and with no guarantee of anything better. By talking about exemptions for certain areas, she just turns the discussion into an "us versus them" issue. She talks of a "divided society", the division beteween rich folks in Point Grey versus the hard working people of the north and interior. She presents the people of the north as "victims" with no "alternatives", while those in the city have alternatives. Here's one line from her article:

 "It isn't as though the gas tax gives them some incentive to change their behaviour - they have no alternatives".

Well, we all have alternatives, both people who live in cities and people who live in small towns. The first alternative is to pay more attention to fuel consumtion when buying our next vehicle. The trend in the past 10 years is more and more horsepower, and horsepower means more fuel consumption. These days, we decide four cylinder engines are too "underpowered". We need more power, enough power so that we can climb the steepest hills at full speed and with a full load, without using low gears. I recently talked to a woman who was selling her 4 cyllinder wagon because she planned a Christmas trip up the Coquihalla and wouldn't be able to go full speed with three passengers in top gear. So she bought a car with enough power to go full speed on that one hill, and pays for it in fuel consumption the rest of the year. She thinks anything that has to slow down on any hill is underpowered. Just look at the engine options for many sport utility vehicles and you'll find that the 4 cylinder engine option is increasingly rare. Instead, we've gone back to buying 6 cyllinder and 8 cylinder models.

Secondly, most of our homes have oversized and inefficient furnaces. And we continue to buy them, because it doesn't yet make economic sense to buy the more efficient furnace, because we don't have to pay any "dumping" fee for dumping carbon into the collective atmosphere. I have recently discovered that the furnace in my own house is roughly twice the BTU output per hour as what is required. And its not the most efficient furnace either. But when I calcluated how much I could save by replacing the furnace, I found that it would take more than 10 years of fuel savings to justify the extra expense of a better furnace. So I didn't buy a new one, although in time my calculation may change. Many of my friends who have replaced their furnaces did the same calculations, and chose the cheap furnace/ increased fuel consumption "alternative".

Third, Carole James seems to suggest that society should somehow exempt people in the north and the interior from playing a part in the reduction of energy consumption. There's plenty that many people in rural areas can do to save fuel, and Carole James failed to mention these. She failed to mention that the problems of urban sprawl exist in Smithers and Nelson just as much as Vancouver. She talks about "big distances" of the north, but is it really true that people in small communities have longer commutes? It is in the big cities that people typically commute huge distances, as they trade off fuel consumption against property values. People in Vancouver are deciding they can get "more for your money" by living in Squamish and commuting to Vancouver. And then they convince the government to endorse a principle that tolls cannot be charged if people "have no alternative". That's a BC Liberal policy, but I'm sure the NDP agrees. Only the Green party says anything different.

What people are doing is trading off increased property size against fuel costs. And this is just as true in Vancouver as it is in Prince George, Williams Lake, Nelson, Smithers, and Kamloops. In any of these communities, you see the growth of sprawling automobile oriented suburbs, much more readily than growth in a concentrated town core. And once they build these houses, impossible to serve by rapid transit, they have "no alternative" but to use their cars.

Fourth, there has been a rampant increase in the past 10 years in fuel consumption for recreational purposes. Snowmobiling is the fastest growing "sport" in Canada, and has grown so much in the past 10 years that snowmobiling now dominates areas that were previously accessed by human power. The thing that has changed is that by dramatically increasing the fuel consumption of these machines, they can now develop the horsepower necessary to scream up and down mountain slopes that were previously inaccessable. And in too many small towns this sport has replaced human powered recreation, which is only for "losers".

Even on the level surface, a typical snowmobile gets between 9 and 12 miles per gallon. The sport of high-pointing operates on the same principle as a rocket, with "buckets" on the treds shooting a jet of snow out behind the machine to generate a forward thrust. Many of these machines are inefficient two cycle engines generating more than 150 horsepower, and burning over half a litre of fuel per minute. One snowmobile advocate I talked to says that his snowmobile gas costs him between $5000 and $8000 per year. And that doesn't count the fuel consumed by his huge pickup truck.

But he calmly explained to me that high pointing was his "passion", just as I might enjoy climbing a mountain on skis. So he really has no alternative. Where was the NDP when the Liberals changed the law in their previous budget to allow these machines to use untaxed farm gas? Why doesn't the NDP make an issue of the fact that gas used for recreational purposes is taxed at a much lower rate than the gas used to drive to the doctor's appointments Carole James talks about? The NDP is strangely silent as these machines take over the back country.

In the last paragraph of her article, Carole James specifically mentions the hardships the fuel tax imposes on Fort St James. But in that exact town, I'll fill you in with a new summer sport that has developed in Fort St James, and was reported to me. What some of the locals do is roar around with their snowmobiles on the nearby lake surface. In case Carole James doesn't know, snowmobiles with enough power can plane along the water indefinitely, just like a speedboat, by spewing a huge plume of water out the back, just like a rocket. And this sport isn't confined to Fort St James. Of course, occasionally someone makes a mistake and their sled sinks into the lake, where it has to be retrieved by means of winches on giant pickup trucks. In too many remote places in BC, if you are talking about recreation, you are talking about machines.

Another growth sport that rivals the growth of snowmobiling is helicopter skiing. One of the smallest helicopters used for skiing, a Bell 206 Long Ranger consumes 160 litres of fuel per hour. Under the carbon tax, this fuel usage will be taxed just like anything else. Perhaps Carole James and the mayors of the northern towns should talk about the hardships the gas tax might impose on this industry, just to give us a more balanced view. It might even make the NDP feel good to know that some rich people will pay more taxes.

In summary, the problem is that the critics of the carbon tax want the government to come up with a solution that doesn't require THEM to change. They want a patchwork system of subsidies and taxes where someone else pays. Rather than a general tax, they want to fiddle around trying to figure out exactly who "has alternatives" and who doesn't. Some NDP supporters envision a system where "industry pays all" not the "working man". They are stupid enough to think that increased costs for industry won't somehow be reflected in higher prices.

This thirst for cheap gas at the expense of society cuts across idelogical boundaries. Along with Carole James, both the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation have published articles in the Vancouver Sun against the carbon tax. In one of their articles, the Fraser Institute says the gas tax won't work, because market prices don't affect peoples behaviour. Isn't this the organization that is always educating us about using market forces to acheive change? But suddenly when its something they don't personally like, they tell us market forces don't work.

Carole James and the NDP need to do a little soul searching as to what ideas they represent. Are they a progressive party, or just a "more for me" party. They need to come forth with positive and concrete proposals for getting all British Columbians to choose better alternatives. Instead, they fall back on the worn out class warfare idea, pitting the rural voter against Point Grey, and in the process ignoring any real change.

Small wonder the NDP is losing a bigger and bigger chunk of the progressive vote to the Green party and even the Liberals. The NDP needs to distance itself not only from labor unions, but also the same old class war idelogy. What too many of us learned during the NDP years in power was that they were not prepared to lead society or act. Both energy consumption and raw log exports increased dramatically on their watch, the very things Carole James now talks about. Instead of concentrating on fuel efficiency, or preserving forest jobs, they led the province on a wild goose chase to build high powered "fast" ferries that use so much fuel they can't even be operated in BC, let alone sold all over the world.

Both parties are afraid to "tell it like it is". Its much easier to reassure people they don't have to pay because they don't have alternatives.


#1030 - 2008.04.16 Robin Tivy - I moved the discussion
I moved the letter from "General Articles" to the "discussion" section, where it should have been filed all along. I didn't originally understand that I had made a mistake.

#1029 - 2008.04.16 Steve Grant - Concerns similar to issue of funding conservation issues
The concerns remind me of the objections raised around 1980 when it was proposed that MEC start funding conservation issues. "Not the purpose of the organization." "A recipe for trouble." etc.

#1028 - 2008.04.16 Glenn Woodsworth - Wrong place
(As of today Apr 16, this has now been corrected. Glenn is right, its just a discussion, not a permanent article. RT)

Without commenting on the merits or lack thereof of Robin's letter, I wonder if it is appropriate for this site. I thought this was a Canadian Mountain Encylopedia, and I thought the articles, photos and comments were meant to have some lasting value.

This letter deals with political matters that don't directly have anything to do with the focus of this site, except for the snowmobile and heliskiing comments, which get lost in the political rhetoric. I can't see it being of much interest to anyone in, say, Alberta or Washington. Perhaps this should go into an editorial blog or possibly the Discussion section? It does not, in my opinion, belong in "General Articles."