What is the Rational Defence of the Climate Action Dividend?

Our climate action dividends arrived today. For non-British Columbian readers, the provincial government has seen fit to bestow CAN $100 on every person with a British Columbian address. This cash-in-hand accompanies new taxes and new tax cuts. From the brochure that accompanied our cheques:

New tax reductions, new programs and the Climate Action Dividend are all designed to support your climate smart choices. Whether you purchase energy-efficient light bulbs, shop locally for produce, or use your dividend to help purchase eco-friendly upgrades in your home, your decisions can make a big difference.

First, a couple of petty complaints about the brochure itself:

  • There are photos of nine people on it, and eight of them are women and girls. Subtext: men can’t be bothered with the environment.
  • The English side of the brochure prominently features a photo of a (forgive me) very dorky, glasses-wearing girl clutching a sapling. Subtext: only nerds care about the environment.
  • The phrase ‘global warming’ is three times as popular on the web as ‘climate change’. Yet the brochure only uses the latter term. Subtext: the government’s PR firm set the messaging instead of picking terms that people actually use.

I think this is an idiotic program. The vast majority of British Columbians are going to spend this money the same way they spend every other dollar. If the government wants to make the environment a priority, then they ought to invest the $440 million in measurable initiatives that are in the public interest.

However, I’m prepared to be convinced otherwise. Who wants to mount a rational, evidence-based argument in favour of the climate action dividend? I think I was out of the country when this announced, so I missed the initial flurry of punditry.

I tried to do this for myself. My first point was the citation of the Canada Child Tax Benefit or ‘baby bonus’. I did find some (hardly definitive) evidence that it increases the birth rate. Still, I’m not sure that comparing it to this one-off cheque is an apples to apples argument.


  1. I was in B.C. the day the finance minister donned her green shoes and introduced this in the budget. It really is a step forward and it put B.C. on the map in a way that most provinces can only dream of. If they had to sell it to residents with a $100 giveaway, that’s really not such a bad thing.

    Politics is often about the lowest common denominator.

    As far as ‘Climate Change’ vs ‘Global Warming’- climate change is a more accurate term. Yes, the goal is to reduce the atmospheric injection of gases that hold onto heat, but such CO2 buildup does not guarantee GLOBAL warming. It does guarantee climate change.

    Be proud of where you are and what your provincial government is doing. In Saskatchewan we are stuck with a sorry lot of right-wing, um, people, who cannot wait to devastate this province in a manner which would make Ralph ‘another round please’ Klein proud.

  2. Jeff: I’m a proud British Columbian, and I’ll support nearly any well-reasoned, rational green legislation and policy. As I’ve said, I don’t think this $100 handout qualifies.

    If I understand your argument correctly, it’s that this $440 million payout puts BC on the map? Is that correct?

    I know that ‘climate change’ is the more accurate term. But I’m in marketing, a world where accuracy is less important than persuasion. And you have better success convincing people with the language they’re most familiar with. I’m not saying that the brochure shouldn’t include the term ‘climate change’, just that it should also recognize the more popular usage.

  3. Darren, the “baby bonus” was established to make sure that mothers had money to purchase milk and shoes for their babies. It started in the days where very, very few women had any money or power. It was one thing that your husband couldn’t drink away. No politician has ever had the nerve to claw it back.

  4. Andrea: Indeed, and I’m not suggesting that politicians should. However, it does serve a different purpose than it did then. Now, as I understand it, it’s considered an incentive to reproduce. Or at least that’s an outcome that everybody can get behind.

  5. I think what Jeff might be referring to (about we BCers being proud of) is that the BC Government is introducing carbon taxes amongst other measures in an effort to help reduce emissions, etc.

    I believe the credit is intended to slightly offset people’s unspeakable rage at having to pay another 2.5 cents per liter of gas, starting July 1st. Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to forestall that…most people I know and have overheard are pretty cynical about the reason behind the cheques and aren’t being fooled one bit 🙂

  6. The Dividend cheque isn’t the “green” part of the policy, it’s the “revenue neutral” part of the policy.

    The principle is that carbon taxes will not increase the net tax revenue collected by the government. They’ll just redistribute the tax collection so it punishes those who use a lot of carbon-taxed goods and services.

    In other words, if you already live in a yurt in the woods, you’re $100/a up. If your hobby is drag racing, well, you’re probably down a lot more than $100 in a year.

  7. Hi DB. No, doing something is what puts B.C. on the map. Compare that to the greedy short sighted polices upheld in places like Edmonton, Regina and Ottawa.

    Cheques might seem like a waste, but it’s just the kind of thing that needs to be included to the make the initiative more palatable (perhaps enough to stem some of the outrage people have at paying more for energy).

  8. I think there could be a rational explanation of the $100 for low income people.

    Here’s why:
    The revenue-neutral part of the tax isn’t just the $100, it’s the income, small business and corporate tax cuts. There’s also a low-income tax credit.

    But for someone who is living paycheque to paycheque, it’s not good enough to pay higher gas prices and then have the government reduce your tax burden at the end of the year — you need money now to cover things in the interim.

    Does the same argument stand for people with higher incomes? I don’t think so. You could look at it as a way to buy votes…or a way to make that first $1.52 per litre fill-up easier…or a way to weather strip/etc. your house and reap savings long term.

    But a lot of people I’ve been talking to would rather see the $450M* spent on something for collective benefit, like more transit.

    (* $450M = $440M + $10M to mail the cheques, which works out to ~$2.27 per cheque)

  9. about the brochure…

    The one thing I was impressed with was that it wasn’t glossy, or big.

    Better to recycle that way.

  10. Being from the US I don’t have a frame of reference with the Climate Action Dividend but it sounds roughly as irrational as the Bush tax cuts or economic stimulus package here in the States. Actual cuts in government spending thus reducing the tax burden on Americans long term would be more helpful. In the same way, taxing people for buying gas as if someone with an hour commute to work can cut down on what he uses is absurd and giving folks money to act in an environmentally responsible manner while still giving public subsidies to fossil fuel instead of allowing alternative energy to compete is also irrational. I’m also for public projects for public good. That’s what taxes are supposed to be spent for.

  11. The $100 is about politics, but it’s more about making a point that the carbon tax is supposed to be neutral than it is a bribe to the voters.

    As said above, without the “dividend” most people would have to wait until the next income tax cycle to feel the tax neutrality, and 6 months is a long time for people to stew. The $100 is tangible representation of the rest of the savings that we are supposed to expect.

    When people quote the $400+ million dollars wasted money, I think it’s more accurate to just point to the administration expense as money that could have been spent differently. In theory, if they didn’t spend that $400+ million now, it would still be coming off of our tax bill at the end of the year.

    This is really just an advance on our tax return.

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