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Les Leyne: Underplayed CleanBC costs under fire

BC United Leader Kevin Falcon says CleanBC costs will hit households hard
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BC United Leader Kevin Falcon announced Tuesday he’d rewrite CleanBC entirely, end subsidies for electric-vehicle buyers and ramp up the drive for LNG exports. DARRYL DYCK, THE CANADIAN PRESS/

The BC United Opposition has been pushing its chips in for the past few weeks on a bet that will either make them a viable contender in next year’s election, or sideline them for years to come.

An escalating series of warnings from the opposition about how the NDP has grossly underplayed the economic impact of the CleanBC climate change plan culminated this week in a promise to scrap it, if elected.

Leader Kevin Falcon is wagering that when people learn about the cost to households from the accelerated climate measures, they’ll worry more about what the plan does to the cost of living than what it does to the temperature.

The promise to scrap CleanBC is designed to counter the Conservative Party of B.C. just as much as the NDP government. BC United’s worries about being outflanked by the two-member Conservative caucus are now obvious to all.

Falcon announced Tuesday he’d rewrite CleanBC entirely, end subsidies for electric-vehicle buyers (“wealthy Tesla owners”) and ramp up the drive for LNG exports.

He said his plan would be “common sense,” which just happens to be one of federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s favourite buzz phrases.

Falcon was mute on his plans for the carbon tax, but is already on record opposing future hikes planned by the NDP. Its future is very much up in the air federally, which has B.C. implications.

In the past few days, Opposition critics have relied on the Business Council of BC’s deep dive into the government’s own analysis of the impacts to warn that CleanBC is a “financial disaster” in the making. It will cut an average $11,000 from household income by 2030 and suck $28 billion from the province’s economy, they say.

It will plunge B.C. into a long recession, cancel out billions in tax revenue and cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The NDP has been avidly advertising CleanBC. The Opposition complained that the government is spending $700 a second on scenic commercials during Vancouver Canucks games stressing the environmental benefits.

But the economic costs were addressed by the government only in a dense, technical study that has not had nearly the same attention. The business group said it stumbled upon it in an “obscure” corner of the environment and climate change ministry’s website.

The suite of measures include hard caps on emissions, restrictions on heating options, numerous new regulations and a dramatic acceleration of the timeline to abolish the sale of gas-powered light-duty vehicles.

BCBC’s main points were that moves are being made too quickly and should be spread over a longer timeline.

The group’s conclusions are hotly contested by the NDP, who say the analysis is fundamentally flawed because it compares the plan to a do-nothing approach, when many measures are actually underway.

Environment Minister George Heyman said the BCBC numbers are wrong. BCBC insists they are the government’s numbers.

The government said B.C. has prospered through five years of CleanBC and there’s no reason to think it won’t continue.

Provincial Conservative Leader John Rustad followed Falcon on Wednesday with his own climate-change position. He acknowledged “man is impacting our climate,” but said it is not a crisis.

“British Columbians are not facing an existential threat…”

He wants to eliminate the carbon tax along with CleanBC measures.

So BC United and the Conservatives are jockeying to appeal to hard-pressed voters who they think might grow leery about the costs and dramatic impacts of the accelerated fight against greenhouse gas emissions.

Which leaves Premier David Eby insisting we can have it all.

He stressed at the NDP’s weekend convention that he’s aware of how many people feel as if they are “barely hanging on … and can’t get ahead.”

But it’s full steam ahead on intensifying the war on emissions, and any warnings about the downsides are being discounted or ignored.

Eby told the legislature Wednesday there have been 107,000 new jobs in the last two years, and foreign investment is up 250 per cent.

“We can protect the climate for our kids … and we can grow our economy just like we’ve been doing.”

If he can prove that, one of BC United’s main lines of attack stalls out.

But if Falcon can turn a complicated economic projection and a steadily escalating carbon tax into a top-of-mind issue around kitchen tables, he’ll make more headway than many now expect.

lleyne@timescolonist.com