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Premier pumps oil patch; fields questions on landowner concerns

DAWSON CREEK – The growth of B.C.’s oil and gas sector was fodder for election fever on Wednesday night, as Premier Gordon Campbell addressed supporters in the heart of the oil patch.

“Let me tell you what’s happened in the energy industry in British Columbia in the last eight years: thirteen billion dollars of investment,” Campbell told a crowd of about 60 at Sudeten Hall.

Campbell entering the hall to the chords of Bryan Adams’ “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started,” which appears to be a campaign theme for the B.C. Liberals. He was joined on stage by Peace River South candidate Blair Lekstrom and Peace River North candidate Pat Pimm, all backed by a banner reading, “Keep BC Strong”.

“We’re not just going to build a great new northern energy corridor, we’re going to build a great opportunity with the Asia-Pacific; we’re going to open new opportunities for British Columbians,” he said. He also outlined unconventional natural gas reserves in the Horn River Basin that he said could power 650 million homes for 15 years.

Senator Richard Neufeld was one of several political players in attendance. Mayors Mike Bernier (Dawson Creek), Lyman Clark (Pouce Coupe), and Larry White (Tumbler Ridge) also turned out to hear Campbell’s 10-minute speech, which made passing reference to agriculture, forestry, mining, health care and education, but laid the focus squarely on the oil and gas industry.

Speaking on the same night the Vancouver Canucks played their first playoff game this year, Campbell indulged in a hockey analogy while lashing out at New Democratic Party (NDP) plans to increase the taxes for the industry.

“It’s like tonight saying to the Canucks: you know you guys, we know you’re in a tough fight, we know you’re in the playoffs. All we need you to do is get rid of the Sedin twins, we’re not going to have Kesler, we’re not going to have Burrows, by the way, let’s make sure we don’t have Willie Mitchell either, and then take away Luongo, and go and win the Stanley Cup.”

In a media scrum after the speech, Campbell said the party will look at “a whole series of ways” to address the concerns of landowners affected by oil and gas development if handed a third term as government.

“At first, it was ‘anything is fine’, and now people are saying ‘hold it, what about us’,” he said. “I think Blair (Lekstrom) is going to have a very good handle on that.”

Ongoing calls to increase the 100-metre setback distance between sour gas wells and nearby buildings is being handled by Lekstrom, Campbell emphasized. Asked about the NDP’s proposal to axe the carbon tax, Campbell defended the tax by pointing out the range of personal income, corporate income, and small business tax reductions northern B.C. residents are set to receive.

“We do recognize there’s distances to travel, and different sets of choices,” he said. “It’s the first levy in the history of the country that doesn’t go to government coffers; it must go to reducing taxes, and that’s what it’s done.”

Campbell said he’s been asked about BC Rail lobbyist Patrick Kinsella just once in the campaign thus far, but the premier will likely face similar questions as the campaign drags on. The NDP opposition spent the final question period before the campaign asking about the lobbyist and BC Liberal campaign manager, and are making the relationship between Kinsella and the premier a focus of their campaign.

The Premier is scheduled to appear in Kamloops tonight.

Greg Amos reports for the Dawson Creek Daily News.

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