Impact of new NDP government on businesses, workers unclear

B.C.’s new NDP government, propped up by the Green party, could put major energy projects in limbo, which some in the province’s business community fear might put a chill on investment. However, environmental advocates say the first NDP government in 16 years could spur innovation in sustainable energy and reduce the province’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Premier John Horgan, who was sworn in Tuesday, and B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver have promised to stop Kinder Morgan’s $7.4-billion pipeline expansion and ask the province’s Utilities Commission to review B.C. Hydro’s $9-billion Site C dam project.

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Greg D’Avignon, president of the Business Council of B.C., said the uncertainty around those projects could shake investor confidence.

D’Avignon said he has had conversations with members and international firms whose concerns “are no longer about a dam and a pipeline. They’re actually about whether people want to invest in B.C.”

He said investment creates jobs, which generate government revenue that pays for the social programs Horgan and Weaver have been touting, such as $10-a-day child care.

Tom Hackney of B.C.’s Sustainable Energy Association said with Weaver’s background as a climate-change expert, he’s confident the province will sharpen its focus on renewable-energy projects that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Hackney supports the review of the Site C dam and the government’s proposal to increase the carbon tax by $5-a-tonne every year starting next April.

“We recognize the need for a healthy economy and for people to thrive as a society, but we also recognize that we really do have to get serious about addressing climate change,” Hackney said.

“So our traditional way of stimulating the economy by developing fossil-fuel projects needs to be reconsidered in the light of the longer-term climate issues.”

Irene Lanzinger, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said the NDP government’s promises to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and improve health and safety on work sites will make life better for workers.

“I think it will be good for workers and good for the economy because we will be dealing with issues around poverty and affordability,” she said.

The NDP-Green alliance has vowed to develop a poverty-reduction plan and a housing-affordability strategy that includes a $400-a-year rebate for renters.

“All of these things are issues workers have been struggling with,” Lanzinger said.

The government has not given a timeline for when the $15-an-hour minimum wage will take effect, but Lanzinger hopes it will be not long after Alberta and Ontario hike their minimum wages in October 2018 and January 2019, respectively.

The Retail Council of Canada is concerned about any change in wage levels, said Greg Wilson, the council’s Vancouver-based director of government relations.

“However, the devil will be in the details,” he said, “and we don’t have all the details yet.”

Wilson said many retail workers who earn minimum wage are younger and work part time. The council is concerned a hike in the minimum wage could lead to job losses for these workers.

“We’re concerned with disruption to business, but we want to work with the government moving forward,” Wilson said.

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