The City of Vancouver is not wrong. It is indeed in a climate emergency.
The emergency is the climate of ceaseless shakedown of our personal finances.
In recent weeks it has become clear that the city’s exercise to build “a cleaner, healthier city” is in fact dirty and sick.
The latest ludicrousness comes in the form of an annual pollution charge on gas-engine vehicles. Up to $1,000 annually – yes, annually, you read that right – will be assessed on new vehicles in 2023 and beyond that are owned by Vancouverites.
Just as ICBC giveth, the city taketh away.
The city is arguing that this tariff would encourage people to choose a different vehicle when they next buy “without impacting affordability for people who have older vehicles.” The city is hypothesizing – because that’s all anything like this unparalleled scheme could hope to – that the measure to force people into more environmentally friendly vehicles will reduce emissions by 7% to 14%. This is a grand up-front conceit, utterly unproveable as a causal effect ever, but the gang at Cambie and 12th has decided the numbers are sufficiently impressive to win some dupes over.
This measure is presumably to shield lower-income Vancouverites driving gas guzzlers (or what we call on the coast their “beaters”) from experiencing further expense in one of the world’s most costly cities. But by 2025 or 2026, a lot of those pre-2023 vehicles will be off the roads, so the exemption is only temporary – and a problem to solve for the next city council, not this one.
But of course, the fee reveals a flaw. If we’re serious about tackling climate change but don’t tax older, less efficient vehicles, what we’re really doing is simply taxing wealth and not pollution.
Why the pretense? Why not just admit it? Why not be honest that city finances are bloated and still insufficient to the pet project taskmasters, that the mayor and the majority of council have no interest in reducing expenses, and that the juiciest place to look is at those who haven’t yet collapsed under the weight of imposed costs? Who do you think you’re fooling?
An additional overnight parking fee is proposed, too, and here is where even more suspicion would be well placed. The city is going to assess an annual parking fee, likely starting at $45 but surely a floor and not a ceiling in years ahead, for the privilege of pulling up anywhere there is not an existing permit system for residents of a block (there is metered parking, too, and that won’t disappear). Pretty soon it will be compared to less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day; that’s how tax compliance is achieved.
For visitors and Vancouverites alike who don’t have a permit (like those who have underground parking garages), they’ll face an overnight charge of $3 to park after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m.
It does not take a Nobel economics laureate to recognize the inherent inefficiency of this exercise. To pay for the staff time and the technical infrastructure of issuing tickets, if a $3 defiant isn’t found about every minute, the scheme is a money-loser. Good luck on that.
My guess: the fee will rise and fast or the idea will sink and fast.
The proposals have been likened to using taxpayers as an ATM, but this is untrue. An ATM has a seemingly endless supply of funds but a limit on what you can withdraw. The taxpayer has a finite supply of what the city increasingly treats as a bottomless reservoir. I can’t wait to see the next property tax proposal.
It is true that the needs of the disadvantaged and unprivileged have been insufficiently addressed. It is also true that our climate change challenges are upon us and significant. Who can’t possibly worry about where this all leads? The questions for the city are what are its firm roles in addressing these large fields and how it stays in its lane. The city needs to do more to search for these answers than to slap sloppy taxes so ill-conceived and haphazard.
We have had too many aspirational, extraterritorial notions about what the city is equipped to perform. Nothing Vancouver does can make much of a dent in the world’s carbon emissions, but it can fix and prepare its infrastructure to deal with the consequences. It can’t solve homelessness or deliver equity, but it can work with larger governments to diminish the problems. Still, it continues to make the oversized claims, in part, to make some of us feel better about ourselves – and, of course, better about those who govern us – all the while failing to concoct ideas to generate prosperity.
The vehicular proposals are only the latest edition. As is clear, the next wave will be tariffs on where and how often you drive. If the busy minds at city hall believe these will compel us to get out of our cars, they need to know it will be in infuriation.
The navigation of this terrain so as not to kill the few remaining geese laying the golden eggs requires ultra-delicate conduct, which this is not. It requires some self-examination of spending to ensure waste is mitigated, which this does not. And it requires some direct levelling with taxpayers when neither seem preferable to the powers that be, which this has not.
I took the city’s online survey on the proposal. Like others, I tried to be polite, even though I have been insulted. •
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.