The British Columbia government is phasing out its two-decade-old AirCare program, which forces Vancouver-area drivers to pay to get their vehicles' emission-control systems inspected regularly.
The province says the program's success and advances in cars' smog-control equipment have made AirCare unnecessary, but some see the announcement as another move by the unpopular Liberal government to pander for votes in next May's election.
AirCare was set up in 1992 by the then NDP government to deal with the Lower Mainland's mounting air-quality problem. Residents had to bring their cars and light trucks in for annual inspection, paying $45 a time, before they could renew their vehicle's licence and insurance.
The program stumbled at first. Drivers were steamed over long lineups at inspection stations run by a private contractor.
But the BC Environment Ministry estimates AirCare reduced carbon dioxide emissions in the adjacent Fraser Valley by 20,000 tonnes a year, the Vancouver Sun reported.
The program's web site also claims that AirCare-mandated repairs cut harmful emissions by a third between 1992 and 2010.
B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake announced AirCare testing would cease at the end of 2014 and the government will refocus on emissions from heavy-duty diesel vehicles, including non-road equipment like forklifts and excavators, the ministry said in its news release.
"With new technology in cars, what we're seeing is the incremental benefits to the airshed are smaller and smaller," Lake said Thursday, according to the Sun.
Lake called the AirCare inspection fees — now $23 year for 1992 and older vehicles, $46 for biannual testing of more recent models after the seven-year exemption for new vehicles — a significant cost to families.
The Liberals under Premier Christy Clark have made governing for BC families a long-term campaign theme they hope will revive their sinking popularity before the scheduled general election a year from now.
The AirCare announcement comes the same week as Clark intervened to cancel hearings by the supposedly independent BC Utilities Commission that was expected to result in major increase in BC Hydro electricity rates.
Clark ordered Hydro to impose a "family friendly" rate regime of 1.4 per cent — well below what Hydro wanted — by next April, just as the election campaign gets under way, the Globe and Mail noted.
Vancouver Province columnist Michael Smyth dismissed Energy Minister Rich Coleman's claim the government's intervention in the power rate process wasn't political.
"This has EVERYTHING to do with politics," Smyth wrote. "There's no way the Liberals, already bruised and battered in the polls, wanted to whack voters with another huge Hydro hike right before election day."
The intervention also breaks a promise by Clark's predecessor, Gordon Campbell, to restore the commission's full independence so politicians could not meddle with Hydro rate-setting, Smyth pointed out.
"The NDP used to pull the same stunts when they were in power — and the Liberals went ballistic about it," he wrote.
The government has also announced it's reviewing the controversial carbon tax Campbell imposed, which adds several cents to a litre of gasoline, and is creating a new Family Day statutory holiday, the Globe reported.