Premier Christy Clark at her Victoria office

Clark on climate, clawbacks, credit cards

A year-end interview with Premier Christy Clark touches on natural gas, climate change, BC Ferries and the growing budget surplus

Premier Christy Clark gave the traditional series of year-end interviews with legislature press gallery reporters at the end of the fall session. Here is a transcript of her discussion with Tom Fletcher.

TF: Are you still confident that we’re going to see a major LNG project approved by the end of 2014?

PCC: We did see one small one, with the FortisBC project going out at Delta. They’re doubling their capacity and going to be shipping LNG. We’re still in negotiations with Petronas and Shell, so I don’t know if it will be by the end of 2014, but I’m hoping in the next few months.

[Days after this interview, Petronas announced it was delaying its final investment decision until 2015.]

TF: The greenhouse gas situation, there’s been a lot of debate about that. I talked to a couple of SFU climate mitigation specialists – these are not the people who were up on Burnaby Mountain – and they agreed with my suggestion that it’s unlikely to the point of impossible to have a major LNG industry and still meet Gordon Campbell’s ambitious greenhouse gas target for 2020. What do you think?

PCC: I think that we may prove them wrong. Many of these facilities, not all of them, will be partly or fully electrically powered up, so that reduces those impacts, and there’s going to be a real incentive to invest in new technology to minimize that as well.

I think the bigger picture is what really matters, which is that in shipping 82 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas to Asia, we help them get off coal and other dirtier sources of oil, and that is the biggest contribution that we’ve ever made to reducing climate change.

TF: Are we going to sell carbon offsets in the Great Bear Rainforest?

PCC: It’s not a central part of the plan.

TF: The plan does involve offsets, so that’s a possibility.

PCC: Yes. I don’t know how that will come out. We’ll see.

TF: I see Ontario and Quebec have taken a page from your book. They have seven conditions for an oil pipeline, Energy East, which involves conversion of gas pipelines and taking Alberta oil to the East Coast. What do you think?

PCC: I think they took our five conditions and elaborated on them. From my perspective that’s great. The way of doing business in British Columbia is becoming the way of doing business across the country, to the extent that those five conditions are contained in that.

So you’ve got British Columbia, Alberta, now Ontario and Quebec, all signed on to some version of the five conditions. And of course Enbridge and Kinder Morgan as well.

TF: What about the conditions they have added, to consider greenhouse gas impact of pipelines and preserve their gas supply?

PCC: I think to me the difference is that I have always thought of the five conditions as a way to get to yes. And it does seem to me that the seven conditions are a little bit more like a way to get to no.

One of the things they say they want to protect against is a shortage of natural gas coming to Ontario and Quebec. These are the same two provinces that have put a moratorium on extracting natural gas. They want to make sure that we do it here, good enough for us to do, and send it to them, but they won’t do that themselves. I look at their last two conditions, and I roll my eyes a little bit.

TF: All the way to New Brunswick [where the new premier has promised a ban], they’ve basically bought the anti-hydraulic fracturing myth?

PCC: Yes. Somehow they all watched an American mockumentary or whatever you call it, and believed it. Here in British Columbia we do fracking better than anywhere in the world. It is the gold standard. It’s all done under the water table, it’s encased in concrete, the small amount of chemicals that are involved is all disclosed. Every day they’re minimizing further the use of water.

And I think what responsible provinces would do is to say, we are going to extract natural gas in our jurisdiction, but we’re going to do it right. So let’s go find out how we can do it the B.C. way.

TF: Speaking of doing business the B.C. way, we’ve seen this situation on Burnaby Mountain, and this is to drill a couple of test holes, this isn’t even gas exploration. It seems to me that viewed from Asia, for example, the B.C. way of doing business is to have endless protests and never build anything. You’ve been there. Is that impression being left?

PCC: No, I don’t think so, because we are getting things done in British Columbia. We’re shipping them more lumber, we’re expanding more mines, we are getting things done. And of course we’ve been extracting natural gas for 50 years. So I think from an Asian perspective, the democratic right to protest is an issue in countries where there’s democracy and the rule of law. It happens in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and I think sophisticated Asian investors understand that that is part of doing economic development projects in Western countries.

But there is a lot of upside too, because when you are doing business in B.C., yes people can protest but the rule of law applies. When you write a contract with a place like B.C., you have certainty. You have redress to the courts.

TF: On aboriginal relations, the agreement with the Nisga’a for LNG and a pipeline is a pretty good example of a successful treaty. This year we’ve seen a triumph for treaty, and on the other hand we’ve seen the Tsilhqot’in land title decision, which is a win for people who said quite emphatically, to hell with treaty, we’re going to go our own way. Is the treaty process getting momentum, is it slowing down, what do you think?

PCC: I think it’s getting momentum. I think the Nisga’a success, the Maa-Nulth treaty, the Tsawwassen success really helps to build momentum. And I would ask people to think about who’s doing well. It’s the treatied First Nations who are seeing the most success, in better health outcomes, in better educational outcomes, in more economic activity and wealth in their communities.

First Nations that have ended up, for various reason, in court for 30 years, have lost 30 years of opportunity for their communities. So I think there is a broad recognition amongst First Nations, as there is in my government, that we have to find a way to come to agreements outside of the courts. Because the Tsilhqot’in communities have really suffered as a result of that lost opportunity, while the Nisga’a communities have thrived in the last 20 years since treaties.

The fact so many First Nations have spent 20 or 30 years in court, it’s not all their doing. It’s been governments as well. They’ve chosen to go to court, and we have also chosen that route. We need to collectively decide, wait a minute, that doesn’t work.

TF: On ferries, we had an interesting situation with Transportation Minister Todd Stone and BC Ferries talking about possibly getting by with only one terminal at Nanaimo and making some substantial changes to major routes. Mr. Stone changed his mind rather abruptly on that, and the impression was left that you put your foot down and said we’re not going to have ferry fare increases, and we’re not going to mess with Nanaimo. Is that fair?

PCC: No. On ferry fare increases, I’ve said for a couple of years now, I think ferry fares can’t go any higher. They can go up with the cost of living, but really, it’s just gotten too expensive now, and don’t think consumers can bear any more cost on that.

On Nanaimo, it was a proposal from BC Ferries and the minister said, OK, let’s have a look at it, and the next day he said no, we’re not doing it. He never said we’re moving ahead with this.

TF: And there’s some frustration from BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan, wondering if this is any kind of an independent organization, and it seems to me those restrictions mean we’re going to have to throw some more subsidy at this system in the years ahead.

PCC: That’s his view at the moment. I’m a bit more optimistic than that about the financial state at BC Ferries. Some of the changes that we’ve made have been very difficult, but they are really beginning to render some savings for the corporation. So we’ll see.

TF: Finance Minister Mike de Jong says we have a surplus estimated at more than $400 million for this fiscal year, and he suggested that much of that would have to go to pay off deficits from previous years. Of course the opposition is interested in welfare rates and in particular ending child support clawbacks. What’s your view?

PCC: Like any family that’s been through tough times, the first thing you need to do when you get back to finding a job and making an income again, is to pay off your credit cards. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to pay off these credit cards that got charged up after 2008 pretty heavily. Because if we don’t do it, our kids are going to have to do it, and that’s not fair.

We are going to see if we can find ways to improve some of the programs over time, but can’t do that until we can afford it. It’s typical, the NDP want us to spend the money before we have it. They want to grow government first and ask where the money’s coming from second. Nobody elected me to do that.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press newspapers. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

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