Martyn Brown: Andrew Wilkinson’s dishonest gas tax blame game

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      Pissed about record-high gas prices?

      Good. Great. Fantastic.

      At least as far as Alberta premier Jason Kenney—a.k.a. The Punisher—is concerned.

      Ditto for B.C.’s own wannabe premier, the insufferable Andrew Wilkinson. The Liberal leader who is neither.

      He is a walking oxymoron (with emphasis on “moron”) who is rapidly positioning himself as Kenney’s chief cheerleader and as B.C.’s. apologist-in-chief for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project (TMX) and Big Oil.

      “More pain at the pumps!” one cheerfully threatens B.C., which the other gleefully hopes he will deliver, in publicly professing the opposite.

      B.C.’s gas pain is the key to their political gain, they both reckon.

      In the first instance, by winning the public relations battle for the TMX. And in the second, by inciting public anger over rising gas prices and dishonestly trying to pin the blame on John Horgan’s NDP government.

      Just what B.C. needs to show British Columbians who’s really boss.

      Namely, Alberta’s Big Oil.

      Or “dirty energy”, if you prefer, as Quebec’s conservative premier François Legault so accurately labelled Alberta’s tar sands crude, on behalf of his Coalition Avenir Québec government.

      The countdown to chaos has ended, now that Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government has been sworn into office.

      Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kenney broke his first promise, to proclaim Alberta’s “turn-off-the-taps” legislation (Bill 12, the Preserving Canada’s Economic Prosperity Act) into law “within an hour of being sworn in”. Although he did so later in his first day in office.

      Not to immediately cut off oil and refined fuel shipments to B.C. and other provinces, he assures us. Rather, just to have that “legal” instrument at his disposal, ready to deploy at the stroke of his pen, should he choose to use it.

      For now, Kenney only wants to make his province’s ultimate legal threat a little more threatening, as it were. Like a nuclear weapon with his finger hovering above the button.

      Just to reinforce that he is prepared to be the serious bully that his NDP predecessor wasn’t, by sending B.C.’s sky-high gas prices into the thermosphere, if push comes to shove on the Trans Mountain pipeline.

      You think $1.72 a litre for regular gas is bad, Vancouver?

      Just watch him—as Kenney has intimated, with all the flair and bravado of the tough guy, Trudeau, who originally coined that phrase more than a year before Justin was born.

      If Kenney goes nuclear, the fallout could be devastating, we’ve all been warned. Prices could soar to well over two bucks a litre.

      Sad, but probably true.

      Sure, Kenney calculates, Alberta’s oil producers, economy, and citizens would also pay a heavy price for such insanity.

      No doubt, Alberta’s reputation would be ruined and Canada’s name would be mud in America, for trying to turn off oil supplies to the five Washington state refineries whose feedstock largely comes from the federal government’s existing Trans Mountain pipeline system.

      Absolutely, it might well be the final nail in the TMX coffin, if the political grief caused by trying to “turn off the taps” proved too much for that project’s current owner and weak-kneed proponent—Canada’s conflicted prime minister. The guy who is at once Alberta’s public enemy number one and would-be saviour.

      But, hey, that’s the logic of “mutually assured destruction” that worked so well against the “commies” in “winning” the nuclear arms race.

      Its rationality lies in its irrationality and in the gamble that no one will be mad enough to flip the switch until all sides can agree to disarm in their mutual interests.

      At this point, Kenney looks an awful lot like Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe at the United Nations.

      Video: Nikita Khruschev famously banged his shoe on a U.N. podium in his "We will bury you" speech in 1960.

      B.C. Liberal leader sides with Kenney

      As his accomplice-in-chime, Andrew Wilkinson is now firmly entrenched in Big Oil’s Bay of Pigs.

      He is now trying to make hay on your gas pains through a Twitter campaign that is likely really just aimed at data mining and getting hold of your email and phone number, so that his party can pester you with fundraising and get-out-the-vote appeals come election time.

      “Do something!”, he mock mewls at B.C. premier John Horgan in media interviews, radio ads, and billboards all aimed at laying the blame on the NDP for B.C.’s runaway gas prices.

      Wave the white flag. Cry “uncle” on Trans Mountain. BUILD THAT PIPE and all will be well again, he suggests in so many weaselly words.

      This from the former B.C. attorney general who not so long ago fought to kill the Northern Gateway pipeline. Whose party weakly resisted the TMX project prior to the 2013 provincial election.

      This from the guy whose own government said it would not “approve” that pipeline expansion unless Alberta bowed to Christy Clark’s infamous “five conditions”. Which everyone knew were always just so much partisan b.s. in her pre-election war with the NDP’s Rachel Notley.

      O.K., so Wilkinson admitted to CBC host Gregor Craigie that the “war with Alberta” that John Horgan supposedly “started last spring” isn’t really at all material to today’s pump prices.

      It hasn’t added one cent to the cost of gasoline, as yet.

      In fact, there is no war at all, unless one accepts the Wil-Kenney contention that B.C. started one, by asking the courts to determine what constitutional latitude it or other provincial governments might have to define and regulate the transportation of hazardous products across their territory. In this reference case, diluted bitumen.

      Or unless one holds Alberta harmless, as Wilkinson and Justin Trudeau have both stupidly done up to now, for passing a bill that is patently unconstitutional and that clearly violates sec. 92(a) of the Constitution, as I have previously argued.

      Sadly, B.C. couldn’t even legally prove that point until Bill 12 is proclaimed into law, as Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice R. J. Hall ruled

      So, in that sense, Kenney did B.C. a favour by following through on his election threat. 

      By giving that act the force of law, Kenney has foolishly legally empowered and politically obliged B.C. attorney general David Eby to immediately go back to court, to get his preliminary injunction, and then have that law struck down, as it surely will be.

      If you look closely, you'll notice B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson over Jason Kenney's right shoulder at the 2014 Vancouver's Chinese New Year Parade.
      Stephen Hui

      How much revenue would Wilkinson forgo?

      Kenney has effectively restarted the war he says he doesn’t want and has handed Trudeau a political gift to stand with B.C. against Bill 12, if only for the constitutional and economic threat it also represents to all provinces.

      None of which is good for Alberta, whose oil producers are probably not at all happy that their new champion in Edmonton was actually as reckless as they feared. 

      “Oh, that’s correct, Gregor. You’re right,” Wilkinson conceded when challenged to admit that there isn’t much Horgan has done or could do to prevent Kenney from doing his thing.

      “The current choice John Horgan has is dealing with the 25-35 cents of litre of taxation that the province puts onto fuel costs.

      “We’ve been suggesting that John Horgan can mitigate that by suggesting there could be a cap on these surges. And the provincial taxes could be reduced during these surges, so that people don’t go broke,” he said. 

      Really, Andrew? A “cap” on fuel prices? How would you propose to do that, exactly?

      Does your party really support imposing legislated price controls? At what level and under what circumstances should that happen, precisely?

      If you don’t believe in allowing the market to determine gas prices, do you believe they should be regulated by the B.C. Utilities Commission or some other body?

      You were dead against that idea when John Horgan proposed that solution in opposition, through his private member’s bills. Back when you, Christy Clark, Rich Coleman, Shirley Bond, Todd Stone, Mike de Jong, and all B.C. Liberals were touting the unfettered “free market” as the best solution to every problem under the sun.

      Reductions in provincial fuel taxes, Andrew? 

      Great stuff. Most motorists would cheer.

      So how much of the $2.7 billion that those fuel taxes currently raise in revenue would the B.C. Liberals proposed to forsake in the name of temporary or permanent tax relief?

      Would you cut the additional two pennies in carbon tax that the NDP has imposed? More? Which taxes and how much? 

      The Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation has started a petition to scrap B.C.’s carbon tax altogether.

      That would cost B.C.’s treasury almost $1.3 billion a year. Is that what you’re advocating, Andrew?

      Are you really so idiotic as to believe that a carbon tax cut of a couple cents per litre would somehow provide “meaningful relief” to pump prices?

      Are you truly so naïve as to believe that a tax cut of even double or triple that amount would somehow trickle down to the people and save them from “going broke”—as you put it?

      Do you really imagine that would actually translate into lower gas prices, confident as you seem to be that it wouldn’t be scooped by gas retailers in higher profits?

      “There have been numerous federal investigations and provincial investigations of alleged price fixing by the petroleum companies and there’s never been any result from that,” Wilkinson told CBC’s Craigie. 

      “It’s apparently not a real issue.”

      Glad you’re so confident of that, Andrew. Millions of Canadians might still have their doubts on that point, as I sure do. 

      So does Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. You should read this.

      Andy Capp The Musical has played to sellout crowds in the U.K.—in light of the political situation in B.C., perhaps it's time to bring the show to Victoria.

      What about regional transportation?

      More importantly, “Andy Capp”, how would you ensure that tax cuts lower gas prices, exactly?

      Would you prevent Metro Vancouver’s mayors and TransLink from imposing their scheduled 1.5 cent per litre fuel tax hike on July 1?

      How would you offset that $30 million loss to the regional 10-year investment plan that your party also purported to support?

      That would be the plan to expand public and rapid transit. 

      The one that will avoid even higher regional fuel tax increases only because John Horgan’s government has committed $2.5 billion in provincial funding—representing 40 percent of the capital costs of Phase Two projects. 

      Your Liberal government opposed that increase from 33 per cent to 40 per cent. Long before you and your former cabinet colleagues took to Tweeting about gas prices and taxes.

      Relief from fuel costs, Andy Capp? Check that—"Andy CAPP".

      Where were you two years ago when John Horgan eliminated tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges?

      Your party railed against that affordability measure in the 2017 election. You voted against the budget that provided for those savings of $1,500 or more a year to Metro Vancouver commuters in B.C. Liberal-imposed bridge tolls. 

      One could buy a lot of gas with those savings, even at today’s prices.

      Your Liberals were also against the NDP’s childcare cost-relief measures that are now saving B.C. families up to $15,000 per year, per child.

      They were against eliminating MSP premiums, which will save families up to $1,800 a year. 

      They were against the increases to income assistance rates and $15 minimum wage that are helping those who are most challenged by rising gas costs, if they can even afford to drive.

      To say nothing of the myriad other initiatives that Horgan’s government has launched—no thanks to the B.C. Liberals.

      Today’s higher fuel prices are no picnic, that’s for sure, but they pale in comparison to the taxpayer-financed relief the NDP has fought Wilkinson’s Liberals every step of the way to offer B.C. families. 

      Remember that when you fill up at the pump, British Columbia, and try to place the blame for sky-high gas prices where it most belongs: with Big Oil and to a lesser extent, with Wilkinson’s fuel-tax-raising B.C. Liberals.

      Also bear in mind, it was Horgan’s government—over the objections of Wilkinson’s opposition—that has already acted in less than two years to minimize, cut, or eliminate costs for hundreds of thousands of B.C. citizens. 

      On dental care, prescription drugs, Community Living B.C. home share and family-based caregivers, rental housing and assistance, shelter aid for elderly renters, first-time homebuyers, adult basic education and ESL, student loans, student debt, tuition fees, ICBC premiums, B.C. Hydro rates, B.C. Ferries prices—the list goes on and on.

      Which of those cost savings would Wilkinson reverse by cutting fuel tax revenues?

      Or is he really suggesting that the NDP should abandon its balanced budgets and run deficits?

      As it is, this year’s forecast budget surplus hangs on a thread. It’s $274 million. 

      Reducing that to zero through fuel tax cuts wouldn’t make much of a dent in pump prices even if it was passed through to motorists. And Wilkinson knows it.

      B.C. Premier John Horgan has made many moves to make life more affordable, despite repeated opposition from Andrew Wilkinson.

      Tell the truth, Andrew

      It is the height of hypocrisy for him and his B.C. Liberals to rail about rising gas taxes for which they are most directly responsible. 

      Yes, provincial fuel taxes are higher than anywhere else in Canada—chiefly because the Liberals raised them.

      It was Christy Clark’s government that hiked the regional dedicated motor fuel tax for TransLink from 12 cents a litre to 17 cents a litre.

      It was the Liberals that imposed the first 6½ cents a litre for the carbon tax that now stands at 8.89 cents per litre.

      Don’t forget, less than two years ago, it was Wilkinson and his crew who voted for Clark’s “clone speech”, which vowed to increase the carbon tax by $5 a tonne starting this year.

      The Liberals pledged to increase the carbon tax each and every year after that, from $30 a tonne to $50 a tonne—exactly the rate proposed by the GreeNDP, in keeping with the Trudeau government’s carbon tax dictate for 2022. 

      Now the Liberals cry foul and lie about what they did to skirt the law that supposedly required the carbon tax to be “revenue neutral”, until Horgan’s NDP formally repealed that annual act of fiscal deception. 

      “Remember, the carbon tax came in 12 years ago, and it started out at one cent a litre and moved up after a year to two cents a litre, then three cents. It’s now up to eight cents a litre and continuing to go up under John Horgan,” Wilkinson told Craigie.

      Actually, it came in 11 years ago, started out at 2.41 cents a litre for gasoline, and gradually rose to 7.24 cents a litre by 2012. Details, details. 

      I know. I was intimately involved in the creation of the carbon tax back in 2008. 

      “We (the B.C. Liberals) also reduced people’s income taxes by a corresponding amount and the NDP have abandoned that, so it’s now just a straight cash grab,” Wilkinson continued.

      Bull. Shit.

      The NDP did not “abandon” the five percent cut in income taxes on the first $70,000 of earnings that Gordon Campbell’s government provided as part of its plan for a truly revenue-neutral carbon tax. 

      The NDP did not “abandon” the low-income Climate Action Tax Credit that Campbell’s government established. It increased it.

      It did not abandon the $200 Northern and Rural Homeowner benefit or the 50 percent cut in school property taxes for land classified as “farm” that his Liberals established with its honestly revenue-neutral carbon tax.

      To suggest otherwise is a lie—and Wilkinson of all people must know that.

      The NDP did not “abandon” the cut to the small business income taxes that Campbell financed with carbon tax revenues, which saw that rate drop from 4.5 percent to 2.5 percent.

      Fact is, it was Clark’s Liberals that abandoned Campbell’s announced plan to reduce the small business income tax rate to zero—not the NDP.

      That, too, would have bought a lot of gasoline for all those small business owners for whom Wilkinson would have us believe he suddenly feels pangs of sympathy.

      It was his government that abandoned the tax relief promised to those businesses—relief that would have typically been worth far more than the two pennies a litre in added carbon tax his party also vowed to impose in its death-bed desperation. 

      If Wilkinson is suggesting that the NDP should “scrap the carbon tax”, as the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation suggests, all of those tax cuts would have to be reversed, and then some.

      Are the B.C. Liberals actually advocating to cut the gas tax, and to raise British Columbians’ income tax by five percent, double the small business income tax rate, kill the Northern and Rural Homeowner Benefit, and cut some $600 million in funding on top of that for priorities like rapid transit and clean energy programs?

      Not on your life. It’s just another dishonest attack on the NDP from Wilkinson’s Whiners that they are banking on being able to make without being called out on it by the mainstream media. 

      Truth is, it was the Clark government that abandoned any meaningful semblance of revenue neutrality, insofar as the incremental carbon tax revenues mostly stopped financing new tax cuts and were instead largely used to extend existing tax credits and benefits.

      Don’t take my word for it. Read the 2017 Liberal-friendly Fraser Institute report.

      Better yet, look at pages 66 to 68 of the Liberals’ last budget.

      It shows what a fraud “revenue neutrality” had functionally become under Clark’s reign.

      Some $669 million of the $1.2 billion in annual carbon tax revenue generated by 2017 was actually going to perpetuate tax credits that were established as far back as 1998 by—you guessed it—the NDP. 

      They included the Training Tax Credit—Individuals, the Interactive Digital Media Credit, the Training Tax Credit—Businesses, Film Incentive B.C. Credit, the Production Services Credit, and the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Credit. 

      A bunch of other carbon tax dough was also used by Clark’s Liberal government to finance things like the Children’s Fitness Credit and the Children’s Arts Credit that had nothing to do with climate action or meaningful new tax relief of the sort originally intended.

      This is a key part of the carbon tax story that economists, environmentalists, and advocates often miss.

      It’s the myth of revenue neutrality that Clark’s Liberals legally manipulated for partisan advantage, inadvertently perpetuated by so many earnest carbon tax champions and researchers. (For example, see this, this, this, this and this.) 

      All Horgan did was essentially end the charade by maintaining the new tax cuts that had been financed by the carbon tax and by being honest about how incremental revenues will mostly be used to pay for climate action imperatives funded from general revenue.

      On that issue alone, I agree with those who argue that B.C.’s history with the carbon tax might be instructive in judging the value of Justin Trudeau’s future commitments to revenue neutrality in respect of the “outlaw” provinces that will be subject to his federal carbon tax. 

      Trudeau’s carbon tax may be revenue neutral today, but the B.C. example has shown that all bets are off as to what any future government may do with that cash, be it Liberal or not.

      In a future article I will address the myth that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project will supposedly increase gas supplies in Metro Vancouver and B.C. and lower gas prices.

      Nothing could be further from the truth.

      And I will suggest a political action plan for countering Jason Kenney’s “dirty energy” crying game that could indeed lower gas prices over the long term.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at