Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Elmwood—Transcona.
Today we are debating the Conservative Party's motion about the carbon tax. The motion claims that the carbon tax will make it difficult for most Canadians to fuel their cars, heat their homes, and buy groceries.
I will say, off the top, that we have to do all we can to fight climate change. Along with the rest of the world, we made commitments in Paris to cut our greenhouse gas emissions. We have to bring our emissions down significantly in the next 12 years, from well over 700 megatonnes to just over 500 megatonnes per year.
Carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, are a form of pollution. We, in the NDP, believe in the concept that polluters must pay for their actions. If I produce pollution by driving my car, I should pay something back to society to reflect the environmental cost that I am putting on other Canadians. A carbon tax is a perfect way to do that.
Carbon pricing, either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, is also the most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. A properly designed carbon tax can get us well on the way to meeting those targets, and it would do so at the least cost to all Canadians.
If, as this Conservative motion states, people will have trouble heating their homes, fuelling their cars, and putting groceries on the table after the price of gas has gone up by 10¢ a litre over the next five years, then perhaps the Conservatives should be looking at why it is expensive to buy or rent a home in Canada or why people are living in poverty. If people are so close to poverty that they cannot afford those things when the price of gas goes up a couple of cents, something is clearly wrong. The Conservatives would better fight poverty by joining us, here in the NDP, to stop pension theft, fix the employment insurance system, and get the government to speed up its action on affordable housing.
The April 1 bump-up in the B.C. carbon tax added only two cents a litre to the price of gas. Well after that, in the last couple of weeks, gas prices went up by about 20¢ a litre. It had nothing to do with the carbon tax, or the Kinder Morgan pipeline dispute, for that matter.
The fact is that we have had a carbon tax in British Columbia for the last 10 years or so, and it has worked. It has been effective in reducing per capita fuel consumption, and the B.C. economy has been leading the country all that time.
Lower-income British Columbians, the ones the Conservatives are now so concerned about, actually come out ahead. They receive a rebate, so they actually gain money through the carbon tax. Buying groceries and heating their homes are actually easier for them because of that tax. All British Columbians benefit through lower income taxes made possible by the carbon tax revenues.
The same goes for Alberta. Under the Alberta carbon tax, people making less than $33,000 per year will be better off with the carbon tax than without it. In fact, in both B.C. and Alberta, 40% to 50% of residents actually benefit financially from the carbon tax.
However, we should not be quibbling over the cost of the carbon tax. The real question before us, the elephant in the room, is the immense cost of inaction. It is the huge cost of climate change itself, global climate change. These are costs that have been hitting individual Canadians, businesses, and all levels of government.
I was home last weekend and toured some of the flooded areas of my riding. We are seeing torrents of water where formerly there were only tiny streams one could step over. There are flooded rural neighbourhoods that have never seen water on the surface before.
The Okanagan Valley is a semi-desert. Many of the small lakes in the south Okanagan do not even have outlets because they usually do not receive enough water to fill up their basins. Now, homes, farms, and vineyards around these lakes and streams are underwater. This is all from low-elevation melt and high water tables left over from last year's flooding. In the surrounding mountains, we have had 150% of the normal snowpack, so when things really warm up in the next couple of weeks, we could have widespread flooding in the valleys.
As I said, this is the second year in a row we have had flooding in my riding. I have not seen a cost estimate for last year's flooding, but it impacted many of my constituents, who had water in their basements for weeks on end, pumping water out as the water table rose to record levels and then stayed there all summer.
I have seen cost estimates from last spring's flooding in Quebec and eastern Ontario. Those floods have been costed at over $220 million.
Back in B.C. last year, we went straight from floods to fires. Indeed, the main crews working on the flooded areas right now in the Okanagan are forest fire crews. Everyone is worried about what will happen when summer comes. Not only will we have the high-elevation snowmelt to contend with, but the fire crews will be sent elsewhere to do what they are really trained for: fight fires.
Forest fires in B.C. last year cost over $500 million just to fight. They cost $127 million in insured damage, and the cost to the forest industry is incalculable. I have not seen even an estimate of that. Two years ago, in 2015, forest fires in B.C. cost $300 million to fight.
Again, those numbers do not take into account the cost to people who lost their homes and livelihoods or the cost to forest companies that had to close down mills during the fires and then reopened them to a new reality, with millions of hectares of forest burned. The forest industry was already reeling from the loss of half the pine trees in the interior of British Columbia through the mountain pine beetle epidemic, something else that can be attributed directly to climate change.
We had the Fort McMurray fire in 2016. The estimated cost of the overall economic impact was almost $10 billion for that one fire. The Calgary flood of 2013 was almost $6 billion in costs.
It is estimated that the financial impact of climate change on the Canadian economy will be over $40 billion per year by 2030. Canadians are paying for climate change every year. Many are losing their jobs or their homes. Some have even lost their lives during these catastrophes.
While I support the government's carbon tax policy in broad terms, we need to do more to meet our Paris targets. Already it is widely recognized that we cannot possibly meet our 2030 target. Canadians want to do the right thing for the environment, but we have to give them more choices.
I have heard it brought up by the Conservatives that we do not have a choice. If the government would do things to give us more choices, we would have a better policy. If we gradually make gas more expensive so that Canadians are getting a market signal that they should buy less gas, maybe we should make it easier for them to buy electric vehicles. We have to provide more charging stations. We should provide rebates and incentives in licensing and parking fees. We have to make that shift.
If we make it more expensive to heat our homes with natural gas, we must provide incentives and rebates so that Canadians can renovate their homes to make them more energy-efficient so they would not have to buy more natural gas. The ecoENERGY retrofit program did just that. From 2007 to 2012, it helped hundreds of thousands of Canadians retrofit their homes, lowering their energy bills by 20%, creating thousands of good local jobs, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by three tonnes per year for each house. While the program cost the federal government $900 million over five years, it leveraged more than $4 billion in retrofit investments by Canadian families. When homeowners invest in new windows, insulation, and other energy-saving projects, that money circulates through communities across the country.
I will simply say that carbon pricing is the cheapest, most effective way to fight climate change. The Conservatives should be praising its virtues and promoting it across the country. In fighting the carbon tax, the Conservatives are basically saying they do not believe in climate change. They are saying they are willing to play on people's fears to make political points while they damage our efforts to fight climate change.
Climate change is the most serious issue of our time. We have to work together on this. It should not even be up for debate.