04/03/2013 05:03 EDT | Updated 06/03/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Liberals Carbon Tax Freeze Promise Panned By NDP Critic


VICTORIA - A promise by British Columbia's Liberal Party to freeze the carbon tax for five years if re-elected in May is being assailed by the New Democrats and environmentalists.

The Liberals said Wednesday they'll hold the tax at seven cents a litre on gasoline — $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions — in order to allow other jurisdictions to catch up to B.C.'s lead in the effort to reduce air pollution.

B.C. introduced the tax in 2008 as part of a legislated goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by one-third by 2020.

But NDP environment critic Rob Fleming said freezing the tax will make it impossible for the province to meet that target.

"If they're going to suspend one of the major tools to achieve carbon reductions in British Columbia, carbon pricing, for five full years, then they have basically given up on climate action targets," he said.

Environment Minister Terry Lake said there are other programs to curb air pollution, including using liquefied natural gas for fleet vehicles, and the freeze will provide certainty for consumers and industry.

He challenged the NDP to tell voters where the opposition party stands on the tax.

"It's pretty tough to listen to Rob Fleming, who campaigned against the carbon tax in the last election, say he is against a five year rate freeze," Lake said in a statement. "Why won't the NDP just come clean and tell people what they will do? It's just not that hard."

In an interview, Lake said he supports ongoing carbon tax increases, but only if other jurisdictions implement their own carbon tax measures to level the field.

"I'm pragmatic," said Lake, who bristled at the criticisms by Fleming and environmental groups. "My challenge to them is rather than chastise the leader, how about going after the other laggards, the other jurisdictions that haven't got proper carbon pricing in place."

Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute criticized the tax freeze plan, saying the Liberals are ignoring the evidence that the tax policy is working to reduce the amount of fossil fuels being burned in the province.

"This position fails to connect the real threat that climate change poses to our communities and our economy with the need for strong climate policies. Our leaders should promise action, instead of committing to inaction," he said in a statement.