Editorial: Moral obligation begins at home

The shine on the B.C. Liberals’ liquefied natural gas dream has dulled considerably since Premier Christy Clark promised LNG would provide B.C. with 100,000 new jobs and more than $100 billion in revenue over 30 years. Comments in Sidney last week from Gordon Wilson, the government’s LNG spokesman, don’t do much to restore the lustre to that dream.

B.C. has a “moral obligation” to develop and export LNG to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in China, Wilson said at a public information meeting concerning Steelhead LNG’s proposal for the Saanich Inlet. He said 500,000 Chinese die each year due to air pollution connected to coal.

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“That’s the number that is slightly greater than the population of the Capital Regional District that dies every year because they can’t breathe the air,” Wilson said. “And we have an opportunity to not only maintain and build our economy here, but we have an opportunity to provide an alternative fuel that will save lives abroad and help the global climate … we have a moral obligation to do it, and we need to get on with the job.”

Wilson’s approach seems glib and cynical: If you’re not dazzled by the dream of untold LNG riches, then perhaps you can be shamed into supporting the B.C. Liberals’ grandiose plans for processing LNG and shipping it to Asia.

Air pollution is no trivial thing in China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. Wilson’s figure of 500,000 deaths a year from coal-generated air pollution is not likely an exaggeration, either. It is conservatively estimated that air pollution kills about 650,000 Chinese each year, and most of that pollution comes from burning coal.

We should all be concerned about making the environment cleaner, but B.C.’s contribution to cleaning up the air over Beijing would be a small drop in a large bucket.

The Chinese government is curbing the construction of new coal-fired generating plants. That means it will import more LNG, but B.C. is only one of many players in that market.

Canada does not rate in the top 10 LNG exporting countries, a list that includes Qatar at the top and Brunei as 10th, with Australia, Trinidad and Russia falling between. Believing that B.C. exports will measurably curb China’s air pollution is like spitting on a forest fire.

Clark’s dream of fabulous prosperity from LNG was based on over-optimistic projections and much wishful thinking; reality has scaled that dream back.

But there’s no question the concept has resulted in at least some prosperity. Wilson is the former leader of the B.C. Liberal party, a post he lost in a leadership review. He left the Liberals and formed a new party, which he disbanded a few years later to cross the floor and join the NDP cabinet. He lost his seat in the 2001 election.

He returned from the political wilderness in 2013 to endorse Clark, who named him the province’s LNG advocate two years ago at an annual salary of $150,000, an appointment that was recently renewed for two years. When he completes that term, he will have been paid more than $600,000 for pushing the LNG dream.

B.C. does have a moral obligation. It is to ensure LNG projects do not harm or diminish the quality of life for British Columbians. Approval or rejection of gas projects should first depend on how they affect the welfare of British Columbians and Canadians.

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