Government taxes little people, lets big polluters skate

Where the highway spills out of the backcountry there’s a view of the river valley that stretches three directions here.

Where the highway spills out of the backcountry there’s a view of the river valley that stretches three directions here.

After a long series of curves that meander through open range, you leave the fir and spruce and decimated pine forest behind and emerge into the arid semi-desert.

Coming up to the cusp of the hill that overlooks it, the first thing you see is the billow of the pulp mill stacks.

It’s like a mushroom cloud. The spume of it feels grating in the gut. There’s a sense of disaster to it like watching twin towers tumble to the ground. But you realize after you’ve seen it so often, that unlike the burst of terrorist angst, it happens daily, the spurge of it sullying the sky non stop.

At the bottom of the hill is a gas station. Highway 5 leads north toward Jasper and south to the Coquihalla and the mainland four hours beyond here, so the line ups are long and regular.

Kamloops is plunked down in the central Interior and its population is mobile, consumer driven and not unlike any other Canadian centre.

So it’s aggravating to consider that, along with the exorbitant price of fuel, the carbon tax is looming on the horizon. Meanwhile, across the Thompson River, Domtar’s effluent continues to scour the precious bowl of the sky.

We’re told that a carbon tax is meant to alter our behaviour. We’re told that a carbon tax is the first step in a gradual evolution of our use of fossil fuels, that we will become greener, more environmentally conscious and responsible. Against the funneling of toxins to the south of here, it’s a huge and grating irony.

When it was introduced in February, BC’s Finance Minister Carole Taylor said her government had promised green and “today we’ve delivered green.”

In First Nation terms that’s like saying “Here’s ten acres, thanks for the hectare.”

Because while any initiative geared to reducing our ‘environmental footprint’ is welcome and timely, it makes little sense to nail the public and let big-time polluters like Domtar lumber (pun intended) along.

The BC government says the carbon tax goes a long way toward its goal of reducing emissions 33 per cent by 2020. If the goal is cleaner skies, why dawdle?

Why not enforce sweeping regulations to force big-time environmental contaminators to toe the Kyoto line and reduce emissions now? Why not fine them heavily for failing to meet our commitment to reductions?

My neighbours make the 25-kilometre jaunt into Kamloops every day for work or school or appointments. In the community we live in, built along the shore of a mountain lake, there’s no need to be jostled into environmental consciousness.

The land is all around us. Nature envelops us completely and to a very large degree, our backyard is Canada. We strive to protect it daily.

When the carbon tax is levied and we continue to see Domtar happily spewing its discharge into the sky, the angst itself will be noxious. Here in BC, ‘pay at the pump’ is not only law, it’s the bitterest of ironies to swallow.

We’re paying so the prime polluters can languish in their promise to deliver significant reductions without penalty.

The Campbell government wants us to believe that the new levy will be revenue neutral. This means that the province will not profit from it.

One really only needs to look back as far as the GST which was also supposed to be revenue neutral and resulted in billions of dollars scraped from the pockets of regular Canadians, to see how little neutrality has to do with reality.

When the dust settles, my neighbours and I will see revenue neutrality in higher property taxes. We’ll see it in higher commodity prices levied by businesses to recoup their larger tax load.

Sure, we could go for the eco-car rebate, wait patiently for the Taylor-bucks, the $100-per-person payout the government is using to sell the tax, but in the end it’s the bite we wait for.

It costs gas and money to get the kids to school, sports, and doctors. It costs gas and money to get to work, to shop, to drive the economy.

None of us can or will stop doing that and in the end the carbon tax will do little to help the environment. Meanwhile, unscathed and unconcerned, the bilious stacks of Domtar and others like it spew blithely in the distance.

Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He recently won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels.

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