Les Leyne: LNG moving target moves some more

Les Leyne mugshot generic

There was a change of tone this week in Premier Christy Clark’s pronouncements on the liquefied natural gas front.

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Her remarks to reporters in Victoria constituted an acknowledgment that the master plan her government has been pursuing for the past several years might have to change.

In the three years she’s been premier, she’s held to a consistent line about the grand vision that was just taking shape when she took over the leadership.The message is about 100,000 new jobs, billions in new government revenues and a debt-free B.C. She took the potential LNG bonanza and has run with it ever since.

Every question that arose was answered with confident assertions that the government has a clear plan to make it all happen and was following it to the letter.

There was a different feel this week in her response to the standard LNG question.

“The script that we have for LNG is not going to proceed, we don’t think, in the way we expected it to,” she said. “We are still on track to meet our goal of having three LNG plants up and running by 2020, but it probably won’t happen in the order that we originally anticipated it would happen.”

She was referring to the order in which the 18 companies who are interested in the prospects were expected to proceed. Not a major change by itself, but there were a few more remarks signifying a different tone than the exuberant virtual guarantees she’s been issuing since taking office.

She said the script or game plan from here on in could change every week. And she noted a requirement for her government — “being adaptable to change.”

There was also a new differentiation between the private investors who are in the hunt and the state-owned enterprises, such as Petronas, an arm of the Malaysian government.

Clark said the private firms are answerable to shareholders and she suggested they might see the low Canadian dollar and possible increases in the available workforce as reasons to go ahead with the investment decision. That confirms that the Petronas project, which was considered the front-runner, has moved further down the batting order as far as B.C. is concerned.

It was the first to reach the stage of making a final investment but balked last month, raising a number of objections and deferring its plan indefinitely. More investors are moving up to the start line, but the problem for B.C. is that the herd mentality, as set by the leader of the pack, might be to just sit out the oil and gas price drop, and wait and see.

When it comes to all the interim steps to the final call, Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman predicted at least one investment decision by the end of this year.

Clark said this week some of the timelines are likely to change and it’s simply hard to know.

But the deadline or goal of three plants by 2020 is still set. “It just might be a little bit different path to get there and it might be different companies, different entrants into the market than we expected.”

As to whether a government that’s adaptable to change might start reconsidering the tax regime imposed last year, she didn’t really answer the question.

She did remark, though, that there are some things you can’t control.

Just So You Know: A reminder about the toast to Sir Winston Churchill Sunday at 2 p.m. in Beacon Hill Park, near the foot of Quadra Street. Drop by to mark the 50th anniversary of his death with some fond reminiscences and an appearance by the great man himself. Proud Churchillians will mark the occasion around a tree that he planted in the Mayor’s Grove during a visit to Victoria in 1929.

There’s been an upswing in interest around the world this week, since it’s the 50th anniversary of his death, which resulted in one of the epic funerals of the modern age.

But Victorians can take credit for marking it over the long haul — we’ve been commemorating the day for 15 years now.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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