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News

Throne Speech Dials Back Province's LNG Expectations

It was a 'half hour of emptiness,' says Opposition.

By Andrew MacLeod 11 Feb 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

As Premier Christy Clark's government approached the halfway point of its term in office, it delivered a speech from the throne that downplayed the expectations for the role a liquefied natural gas industry may one day play in the provincial economy.

"Liquefied natural gas could create 100,000 jobs and the revenues to eliminate our debt by supplying the world's cleanest fossil fuel to the growing economies of Asia," said the speech outlining the government's agenda and read by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon.

In 2013, Clark campaigned on a "debt free B.C." platform based on the promises of an LNG industry, though no proponents have made final investment decisions and falling oil and gas prices have put the plans further into question.

Past throne speeches said the LNG revenue would create a "prosperity fund" of $100 billion and could be used to eliminate the provincial sales tax.

Such promises were absent from this year's speech, which instead emphasized the importance of economic diversity. "We live in uncertain times," it said. "The global economic recovery remains fragile, and market conditions remain unstable."

It was unpredictable that the price of oil would lose half of its value within a few months, the speech said. "We are fortunate in B.C. that we have a diverse economy and the people, working in diverse sectors, to build our future," it said. "We are fortunate that we do not rely on one commodity."

Instead, nearly 14 years after the BC Liberals first won election, the speech listed more than a dozen areas where the government would continue on the same course, including cutting red tape, working with municipal governments, managing debt, negotiating union agreements, and building partnerships with First Nations.

'Half hour of emptiness'

John Horgan, the New Democratic Party leader, said the throne speech contained nothing to address the concerns of real people in B.C.

"We have a government today that brought forward a half hour of emptiness," he said. "The only thing they brought forward this year is to reduce -- by $230 million -- taxation for the highest two per cent of wage earners in British Columbia."

In 2013, the BC Liberals introduced a temporary two-year tax on incomes over $150,000. That ends this year, and Finance Minister Mike de Jong said last week there are no plans to extend the tax longer.

"What about regular folks who are being crushed by MSP premiums, hydro rates, ICBC rates, on and on it goes," said Horgan, noting people tell him they feel strapped in today's economy and the government doesn't seem to care. "None of the things that are happening in real people's lives was reflected in today's throne speech," he said. "Not one word that will really affect people's lives."

The province has "tremendous potential" with its people, resources and markets, he said. "We seem to be squandering that opportunity." The speech talked about a diverse economy, but everyone knows recent speeches have ignored forestry and the mining sector is stagnating, he said.

Cites Jobs Plan

Premier Clark said the government is following through on the BC Jobs Plan it introduced in Sept. 2011. "We have a plan and we're sticking with our plan," she told reporters during a scrum in her office.

"They [the Opposition NDP] don't have a plan, they don't have an identity, they have nothing to stick with."

The province approved an $8 billion expense to build the Site C dam on the Peace River, is working with 18 LNG proponents as they move towards making final investment decisions, and is re-engineering postsecondary education to fill the skills gap, she said.

Clark acknowledged that reporters might see little new in the plan. "I might have to write a letter of apology to your editor that I can't help you come up with a news story, but that's not my job. My job is to stick with a plan. We have a plan, we're sticking with it."

The throne speech mentioned Clark will lead her seventh international trade mission, this one to Guangdong province in China, and the softwood lumber agreement with the United States, in the past contentious, ends in October and is being renegotiated.

Also, the government is creating a Medal of Good Citizenship to be awarded to people who volunteer "their time, money and talents to build stronger communities."

Last week, de Jong, the finance minister, hinted the government is prepared to end the clawback of child support payments for single parent's receiving welfare, but the throne speech made no mention of that. Asked about the issue, Clark said to wait for the budget, which will be released Feb. 17.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, BC Politics

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