Opinion: Gas rebate cheques do nothing for BC's affordability crisis

Apr 1 2022, 7:41 pm

Written for Daily Hive Urbanized by Sonia Furstenau, leader of the BC Green Party and MLA for Cowichan Valley


As most British Columbians know by now, ICBC plans to issue rebate cheques for drivers in coming months. These rebate cheques – which amount to $110 for most ICBC customers, and $165 for commercial drivers – were branded as a response to high gas prices. They’re meant to help make the lives of British Columbians easier in an affordability crisis.

This money might fill up the gas tank once or – if they’re lucky – twice, but it’s certainly not going to make BC more equitable or affordable. It’s not going to help us be more resilient to international geopolitics or climate change – but mostly, it’s not good public policy.

There has been a lot of recent discussion about oligarchies in Russia, but we should reflect on our own wealth inequality and the undue power retained by billionaires and oil and gas companies here at home.

In the first nine months of 2021, the largest oil and gas companies made a combined $174 billion in profits. Companies such as Exxon openly credited the high gas prices for their profits. These profits are reflected in the increasing gap between Canada’s billionaire class and everyday people. An analysis of the impacts of the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic found that Canadian billionaires increased their wealth by $78 billion; the same analysis found that the richest 87 families in Canada held more wealth than the bottom 12 million Canadians combined.

The economic pressures on regular households have been particularly challenging in BC. Average rents in Vancouver and Victoria have increased by more than 20% in the last six months. According to BC’s consumer price index, food is 5.8% more expensive than it was last year. And of course, gas prices have skyrocketed since Russia invaded Ukraine. The BC NDP’s campaign promises that would have made life a little easier or a little more affordable for British Columbians – such as free contraception or assistance for renters – remain unfulfilled. The minimum wage was recently increased to $15.65 an hour, but that’s leagues behind the living wage, which is a lot closer to $20 per hour in most B.C. communities.

Inequality is growing and stratifying by the day. The rich are getting richer, everyone else is getting poorer, and the provincial government is content to stand by and throw a tank of gas our way to placate criticism.

What could this provincial government be doing?

Instead, this government could be restructuring the Climate Action Tax Credit. Right now, the provincial carbon tax raises $2 billion in revenue annually, but only $120 million of that is distributed back to British Columbians via the tax credit. Why not restructure the program to offset the inequitable impacts of the affordability crisis while shifting us to be better prepared for climate impacts? Why not invest some of that money in capital funding for better transportation networks, which are also getting more expensive?

I am not an advocate for the carbon tax to be completely revenue neutral, and certainly not as a mechanism for corporate tax credits; however, British Columbians do deserve transparency on how that money is spent. They deserve their government’s tax policies to make life easier and more equitable, not harder and more unfair. They deserve a government that proactively looks towards future needs, rather than being in an relentlessly reactive mode.

Life is getting more and more expensive for the majority of British Columbians, and a small group of people are profiting from it.

The BC NDP have long branded themselves as progressive, as representatives of the affordability needs of British Columbians. Their actions demonstrate otherwise.

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