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Les Leyne: B.C. Liberals would benefit from fall legislature sitting

The odd thing about Premier Christy Clark’s decision to forgo a fall legislative sitting is that this is one time being in the legislature would actually work to the government’s advantage.
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B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix and his question-period committee stand at the doors of the legislature chamber Monday on what would have been opening day of the fall session, had Premier Christy Clark not cancelled it.

The odd thing about Premier Christy Clark’s decision to forgo a fall legislative sitting is that this is one time being in the legislature would actually work to the government’s advantage.

New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix and his question-period committee appeared forlornly at the doors of the legislature Monday on what would have been opening day of the fall session to point out the fact the room was empty. He said they had any number of questions to ask about issues of the day.

But there are no B.C. Liberals around to ask.

It was a curious call by Clark. The NDP may be bursting with questions, but this fall was a double-barrelled opportunity for Clark. She could have accomplished an important task and also shown her opponents off at a disadvantage.

The NDP made a series of miscalculations that blew a sizable lead in the polls. Their leader announced his intention to resign over the loss.

They’re in the middle of a protracted internal review of everything that went wrong. What better time to give them some face time in the legislature?

Opening the doors for a few weeks would have provided a fair amount of exposure to a party whose leader is checking out and whose leading lights are preoccupied with the question of whether they want to succeed him.

The Liberals would have to face a number of question periods as the official Opposition tries to do its job. But they’re very accomplished at ignoring or deflecting those queries. And the one area where they might be seriously exposed — the ethnic-outreach scandal that resurfaced last month — is under police investigation. By convention, that puts it off limits as far as the politicians are concerned.

The major task that needs doing relates to the jobs-and-prosperity push that contributed to Clark winning the election. It’s legislating a tax regime for liquefied natural gas exports. Her government acknowledges how important that is to get it done right, and get it done soon. But they decided to pass on the chance to do it this fall.

The minister responsible for LNG, Rich Coleman, illustrated how awkward that leaves things during a conference call Monday.

Discussing an upcoming LNG sales trip to Asia, he said B.C. will make the move to commit to a clear tax regime so all the interested parties know what what’s on the table.

He said the government will “lock it down with some complex legislation so people know there is certainty around their investment in B.C., so somebody can’t just come in and arbitrarily change it after you’ve made billions of dollars of investment, which has happened in some jurisdictions.”

Knowing the rush that’s underway, the government initially wanted to do just that this fall. But it couldn’t get the bill drafted in time. So they’re going to release an outline of the tax regime before year’s end. That’s not the kind of certainty everyone, including Coleman, says is needed.

Outlining what a brand-new export tax might look like isn’t the same as introducing the tax in the house and making it the law.

Coleman also discussed some of the work going into that tax.

The final go or no-go decisions by various consortiums planning multi-billion-dollar plays are expected over the next year. Coleman said they will change the future of B.C.’s economy.

What the tax regime will look like is one of the key questions to be answered before those decisions are made.

Coleman said B.C. has been negotiating with the companies “on a very detailed confidential basis” to determine the most mutually advantageous rate.

On a game-changer of this magnitude, the sooner the results of those confidential talks get aired publicly, the better.

Just So You Know: Coleman also said that carbon emissions are part of those talks.

It’s almost impossible to imagine B.C. meeting emission-reduction targets if massive industrial operations spring up on the north coast.

Unless you get creative in your greenhouse-gas count. Said Coleman: “There is some fair argument around the fact that if we send natural gas to Asia, particularly China, to replace coal … then we as a jurisdiction should get some credit worldwide for actually helping other countries.”