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NDP policy on liquefied gas unclear to expert panel

An expert panel of academics, environmentalists, First Nations and business representatives spent two hours Monday evening debating premier Christy Clark’s liquefied natural gas strategy.

But none of the participants had any strong opinions about the alternative vision offered by NDP opposition leader Adrian Dix. Broadly speaking, nobody was quite sure what an NDP government would do differently.

“I don’t know what the NDP’s policy [on LNG] is,” Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, told a Vancouver audience gathered for the panel discussion. “But I do know that as we get into the election, I think [both parties are] probably going to distinguish themselves from one another.”

With less than a month to go until B.C.’s provincial election, it’s still unclear how and when the NDP will distinguish its liquefied gas strategy from the Liberal government’s.

Opposition energy critic John Horgan has said that he's not against an LNG industry powered by natural gas, as opposed to renewable energy. And the NDP recently promised to expand B.C.’s carbon tax so that it covers greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas processing.

But on the truly big questions, such as how the province intends to reconcile liquefied gas development with its climate change targets, the party widely expected to form B.C.’s next provincial government hasn’t provided much clarity.

“We haven’t seen their platform yet,” said Tom Syer, vice-president of policy and communications for the Business Council of British Columbia. “I think it’s fair to say we’ll see a slightly different focus than what the current government has put forward. But beyond that I think we’d be dealing with a fair bit of speculation.”

The NDP last week revealed how it intends to pay for its election platform. Party platform co-chair Carole James said the NDP’s full policy plan will be revealed “over the coming weeks.”

“We’re all waiting with bated breath,” Merran Smith, director of clean energy Canada at Tides Canada, told the Monday evening panel.

With May’s election date looming, said University of Victoria professor Karena Shaw, the stakes for B.C. couldn’t be higher.

If done right, Shaw argued, the province could develop LNG in a way “that is just, sustainable and profitable – an industry that actually distributes the benefits and risks across the population as they should be.”

With the current Liberal plan falling short on most counts, she said, “We have to take the question very seriously.”

Geoff Dembicki reports for The Tyee.

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