A unique summer sitting of the British Columbia Legislature called by the BC Liberal government to pass the controversial Liquefied Natural Gas Project Agreements Act and to debate the project development agreement (PDA) for Pacific NorthWest LNG, has just finished.
The BC NDP Opposition allowed this sweetheart deal for a consortium headed by Malaysian state-owned Petronas to pass the Legislature in just six days. The government is wildly desperate to get a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry going in British Columbia before the next election in 2017.
Critics are not impressed. B.C. Green MLA Andrew Weaver called the deal a “generational sell-out.” Martyn Brown, former Chief of Staff to Premier Gordon Campbell, wrote that the deal was “environmentally reckless, fiscally foolhardy and socially irresponsible.”
The B.C. Liberals are scrambling to create the “certainty” needed to deliver a fraction of the promises that they made in the 2013 election. In the process, they are selling out British Columbia by packaging rock-bottom tax rates, extraordinary taxpayer-backed subsidies to one of one of the richest industries in the world, and a guarantee that LNG specific taxes will not change for 25 years, tying the hands of future governments.
This deal is a startling precedent to set for resource extraction investments in British Columbia. Yet the government passed it through the Legislature quickly and painlessly. How is that possible?
John Horgan, Leader of the BCNDP (and the Official Opposition) announced on the first day of the session that they wouldn’t be supporting the legislation and opened his speech to Bill 30 saying:
"The proposal that we have before us will affect British Columbians for decades ahead - in fact, two and a half decades… The consequences of this decision that we are making throughout the course of the next number of days will have profound influences and impacts on our children and our grandchildren."
Fast forward only six days, and the B.C. Liberals are passing Bill 30 into law.
As North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice said, “We on this side of the House [the opposition] support the development of an LNG industry for B.C.” The BC NDP supports LNG extraction via horizontal fracking, cooling and shipping, despite the reality that British Columbia cannot grow this industry while also meeting our greenhouse gas reduction targets.
They were clear that the reason they did not support Bill 30 – this particular project development agreement for Pacific Northwest LNG – is because this one was a bad deal. Mr. Horgan reiterated who should be benefiting from resource development:
“I believe British Columbians understand that our resources belong not to the government of the day, not to foreign multinationals but to people in Fort St. John, and Prince Rupert and Kamloops and Langley and Victoria. In fact, they belong to British Columbians. It’s our responsibility, as legislators and as those of us on the side of the official opposition, to hold the government accountable and to check against delivery, as they say in the business - what the government promises and then review it beside what they deliver.”
What about what the Official Opposition promises and what they deliver? This is a bad deal, a deal they don’t support, a deal that locks British Columbians into a race to the bottom, a deal that affects our children and grandchildren, and what kind of opposition did British Columbians get? Not really an opposition at all.
What I see is an opposition that is so afraid of how the government might frame them, that in the end, they let the Bill pass without using the tools they have to thoroughly debate it and left half of their MLA’s restfully mute, riding the back benches.
How about my MLA? Where was Gary Holman? I know he is committed to making a strong environmental stand, yet he remained silent or maybe the party leadership decided we needn’t hear from the member representing Saanich North & the Islands.
When Green MLA, Andrew Weaver introduced an emergency debate on our legislative response to climate change, both the Government and the Official Opposition spoke against the motion. The B.C. Liberals don’t believe we need a debate, while the BC NDP figure we can have it later. To be clear, Weaver was not asking to debate long into the night; his request was for just one hour.
The Official Opposition’s political rhetoric may have you believing that they have a strong stand on the environment, but their actions show otherwise. They advised against a debate on our legislative response to climate change this summer. Instead, the climate discussion should be kicked down the road to a fall session that may or may not happen.
We cannot have an LNG industry and meet our climate targets. Throw that on the pile of U.S. thermal coal that the Official Opposition wouldn’t discuss when Weaver gave them the opportunity, and it is obvious their rhetoric and reality are wildly inconsistent.
Only Weaver offered an attempt to delay passing of the bill through his introduction of a Reasoned Amendment, arguing that the Bill not be read a second time, as project development agreements inappropriately limit the ability of future governments to use their legislative prerogative to respond to the future environmental, social and economic challenges that will face both an LNG industry and our Province.
Not one member of the BC NDP even bothered to speak for or against the amendment, despite the fact that the BC Liberal House Leader, Mike de Jong, rose to speak to the amendment.
This was the saddest attempt at opposing a high profile, high stakes bill. This is why British Columbia needs more Green MLAs. Andrew Weaver does not sit on the sidelines, parking his values for party loyalty. He is loyal to his party by actively deploying as many tools as one MLA can, to ensure issues are debated and that new ideas are raised.
We need an Official Opposition that represents the interests of British Columbians, not one that decides to bench more than half their team and let a bad deal become law with just six days’ debate. There is simply too much on the line for them to sit it out.