When it was mentioned that the company proposing the Woodfibre LNG project has decided to proceed, delegates at the BC Liberal Party’s convention in Vancouver greeted the news with a standing ovation and sustained applause.
The liquefied natural gas project, planned for Squamish, represents a $1.6-billion investment and is expected to provide 650 jobs in construction and 100 ongoing jobs once it’s operational, said convention co-chair Emile Scheffel.
What’s more, he said, referring to the detail that the plant will be powered with electricity instead of burning gas, “It’s going to be the cleanest LNG in the world.”
The Woodfibre announcement meshed tidily with the theme for the convention’s opening day, billed as “Free Enterprise Friday.”
Speakers including former federal Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day, former Haisla chief councillor Ellis Ross who is running for the BC Liberals in Skeena, and Environment Minister Mary Polak picked up the theme that B.C. could have robust industrial development along with protecting the environment and supporting people in communities.
Ross, a First Nations leader, told the audience he’s been criticized by some in his community for running for the BC Liberals instead of the NDP, but that he’s free to run for the party that best fits his goals. “This is the 21st century for Aboriginals too,” he said. “I’ve got ambitions for my people too.”
He later added, “We still have oil and gas dreams.”
Ross also said that after 2009, when the Haisla brought in an advisor who helped the council learn to work with the government, “Our community changed overnight.” Instead of being tied up in legal disputes over land and resources, cooperation brought the First Nation agreements, money and opportunities, he said.
“We’ve got so much potential, and we’ve got to put in the right people with the right party to achieve that potential,” Ross said.
David Eby, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, was at the convention as an observer. “The timing’s very interesting,” he said when asked about the LNG announcement. “We know this government sees a very fine and sometimes disappearing line between the interests of the political party and the interests of the government of British Columbia.”
NDP leader John Horgan has set out four conditions for supporting LNG projects, and so far it looks like the Woodfibre project will meet them, so the party will likely support it, Eby said.
“From our perspective, we’re waiting to see the fine print because we don’t find the Premier or [Natural Gas] Minister [Rich] Coleman have much credibility on their LNG promises,” he said. “Like most BC Liberal announcements on LNG, we’ll wait to see what the actual story is before we run with the press release.”
Overall, the LNG industry has so far failed to materialize in the way Christy Clark promised ahead of the 2013 election, Eby said.
“They promised five projects by 2020, they’re delivering one very small project maybe by 2020,” he said. “I think most people realize the Liberals placed a huge bet on LNG that backfired and in the meantime we lost a bunch of time in industries we should have been pushing harder, like tech, clean tech and value-added in the forest industry.”
The Wilderness Committee called support for the Woodfibre project “reckless” and said it “will damage both the global climate and the public purse.”
And the B.C. associate director at the Pembina Institute, Matt Horne, said in a prepared statement that an LNG industry “would undermine the province’s ability to do its fair share in the fight against climate change.” Carbon emissions from the completed Woodfibre project would make up about six per cent of B.C.’s legislated target for 2050, he said, “making the target more challenging to achieve.”
Despite the limited LNG success, Finance Minister Mike de Jong was telling a story of economic strength on a panel discussion at the convention, as Liberals no doubt will be doing up until the May 2017 election.
By growth in gross domestic product, B.C. has the number one provincial economy in Canada, de Jong said. “I like saying it,” he said, noting that this year will be the first time since the 1950s that B.C. has led on GDP growth for two years in a row.
The province has had strong job growth and enjoys a low unemployment rate, he said. He also reminded the audience that with continued budget surpluses the government is within three years of eliminating the operating debt.
“We have a good story,” he said. “We’ve got an election coming. Let’s make sure B.C. stays number one.”
Outside the room where de Jong spoke, the NDP’s Eby said, “If we’re so prosperous and so wealthy, why are we closing schools? Why are seniors homeless? Why does it seem so difficult for families to find housing? I simply have difficulty understanding where the money’s going if we’re so awash in cash and prosperity in British Columbia.”
The BC Liberals have sessions planned for the weekend on how best to use future budget surpluses on “affordability,” an issue on which they’ve received much criticism from the NDP.
Said Eby, “Better late than never.”