How will BC NDP spend federal low-carbon funding?

New B.C. government will have to determine what its priorities are by the fall

Increased spending on electric vehicles is just one area that provincial governments might apply new funding from the federal government.

Later this year, B.C. will be eligible for $162 million in federal funding to help it meet its climate change objectives.

So what would give B.C. the biggest bang for its buck?

Should the provincial government funnel that money into energy-efficient building incentives, increased subsidies for electric vehicles or planting trees?

That’s a question the new BC Green Party-backed NDP government will have to decide by fall, which is when $2 billion in funding from Ottawa’s Low Carbon Economy Fund will begin to flow over a five-year period.

The bulk of the funding – $1.4 billion – will go to provinces and territories that have embraced carbon pricing (Saskatchewan need not apply) to help them deliver on their climate change policies. B.C.’s per capita share is $162 million.

That’s not a lot of money, considering the task at hand. In fact, it might be a waste of tax dollars, according to noted Simon Fraser University sustainable energy economist Mark Jaccard.

The best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to either tax them (carbon pricing), impose regulations (emissions caps or low-fuel standards) or both, Jaccard said, not throw tax dollars at the problem.

“Government expenditures have negligible effect because they cannot cause a shift from gasoline in transport to electric and ethanol alternatives, or from natural gas in buildings to electric and biomethane alternatives,” he said.

“So when I see these numbers of government spending on climate thrown about, I just feel frustrated as a taxpayer. I know the money will have little effect on emissions, and it usually means that government will not enact sufficient pricing and regulatory policy.”

The federal government has placed a national price on carbon, but Jaccard has argued that regulations are also needed because it is too politically risky to raise carbon taxes to the level they need to be to meet Canada’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Liberal MP for North Vancouver, said carbon pricing and regulations are important tools, but he added that government funding can also be important to fund things like building out charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

“Unless you have an initial infrastructure for electric vehicles, nobody’s going to buy one,” he said. “So there is a role for governments to play in starting this process.”

Wilkinson said the BC Liberal government originally identified the forestry sector as one of the top priorities for the new funding. A new NDP government will therefore have to decide whether it will keep the BC Liberal plan or apply to have the money go elsewhere.