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Debt Free, Gas Powered BC Still Coming, Throne Speech Vows

'Success is not for quitters,' government says, despite global forces delaying LNG riches.

By Andrew MacLeod 9 Feb 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

A debt-free British Columbia with a healthy Prosperity Fund built on liquefied natural gas revenues is still on its way, but delayed due to global forces, according to today's speech from the throne.

"There is no question that unforeseen global conditions are posing new challenges," the speech said. "Low global prices will have an impact on your government's initial timelines."

The speech, delivered by Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon but written in Premier Christy Clark's office, outlines the agenda for the new session of the legislature.

There are 15 months until the next provincial election. In the 2013 election campaign, Clark campaigned on a "debt free B.C." platform based on the promises of a liquefied natural gas industry.

There are 20 LNG export projects proposed, but none has reached a final investment decision as global prices have plummeted and shown little sign of recovery.

Last week, LNG Canada, a joint venture including Royal Dutch Shell PLC that has one of the first and largest proposals for the province, announced it would delay its final investment decision to near the end of 2016.

The government, however, is not to blame for the delay, according to the throne speech.

"Government has done everything it set out to do to attract investment for the cleanest LNG in the world," it said. "As companies consider their best opportunities to reach final investment decisions, your government will continue to work to bring home the opportunity of LNG to B.C."

The speech repeated a promise to establish a Prosperity Fund using money from exporting LNG, a commitment first made in the 2013 throne speech three years ago. "Success is not for quitters. Success demands steadfast attention, and resiliency in the face of global challenges."

Survival of the industry depends on exporting LNG, the speech said. "It is not a choice between keeping B.C.'s natural gas industry stable or deciding to grow it. We must begin to export, or the 13,000 people who depend on this industry today will be out of work."

'Downturn in expectations': NDP

NDP leader John Horgan said there's been a "downturn in expectations" from Clark on her LNG promise. "The premier said three years ago she was going to create 100,000 jobs with an LNG industry. Today, she said she hopes to save 13,000 jobs if an LNG plant takes place."

Everyone wants and supports good jobs, but the premier is out of touch with the reality of most British Columbians, Horgan said. "People are not experiencing what the premier's talking about," he said. "They hear hollow promises, they hear repeated bromides about how things could be and it doesn't have any reflection on the reality they are living day by day by day."

Most of the issues that affect people are the result of government policies, he said, including the rising cost of Medical Services Plan premiums, BC Hydro rates and housing.

BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said in an emailed statement that the provincial government has had "reckless disregard" for the state of the global LNG market. "Their suggestion that there was no way of knowing that LNG was a bad gamble to make, despite the fact that experts have been telling them this for almost 4 years, is a troubling rewrite of history," he said.

Building an LNG export industry remains a focus for the government, Clark told reporters. "It's gotten a lot harder with oil at about $30," she said. "We'll never be successful if we just decide to be quitters about it, and we're not going to be."

LNG proponents have already spent $20 billion in the province and are looking ahead at what the demand will be for natural gas decades into the future, Clark said.

'Alberta lost its focus'

The throne speech stressed the diversity of the provincial economy and said that by eliminating the operating debt, the government is "paving the path towards a debt-free B.C."

For an example of a province that made worse choices about managing its resources and provincial budgets, it looked eastward.

"Consider our neighbours in Alberta -- a province of similar size, and also blessed with natural resources," it said. "Over the decades, Alberta lost its focus. They expected their resource boom never to end, failed to diversify their economy and lost control of government spending."

B.C. would have to "resist the temptation to spend our way into trouble," it said.

The speech also said the province is moving forward with a tax credit for farmers that donate food to non-profits, investigating allegations of improper behaviour in the housing market, working to encourage more housing supply and hiring more social workers.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, BC Politics

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