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Les Leyne: Clark amps up resource-sector support

Interpreting and re-interpreting the May 14 election results never gets old for Premier Christy Clark.

Interpreting and re-interpreting the May 14 election results never gets old for Premier Christy Clark. It was a fascinating vote for most people, but imagine how much more compelling it is for the person who won it outright, in the face of the widespread view that she didn’t have a chance.

Her latest version of reasons for the surprising 15-seat win by the B.C. Liberals was delivered Wednesday at a resource development forum in Prince George. She said election day was a choice between sustained growth (B.C. Liberals) and “managed decline” (NDP).

It will drive New Democrats to distraction to hear their election platform summed up as managed decline. No doubt that’s part of the charm the phrase holds for her. And it does highlight the party’s reluctance to stand up and unequivocally support industries where people make a good living moving dirt, felling trees or laying pipe.

Even though it will irk them to hear Clark dwell on it some more, many prominent NDPers now recognize that as a problem.

The resource forum has been meeting for 11 years. It’s usually much the same cast of characters from government and the resource industries, reassuring themselves they are on the right track.

Said Clark: “If you care about the resource economy, if you recognize as you should that B.C. is the centre of the resource economy in this country, you’re here at this event.”

They were an audience primed to support growth over managed decline, even if they did hedge their bets with some NDP contributions last year. So Clark amped it up to the max.

The central choice is: Do we support growth to maintain society, “or do we manage decline, and watch institutions crumble because we can no longer afford to look after them?”

She reassured the mining, logging and pipeline executives that her government made the first choice and, in order to fulfil it, will be “standing by you in the resource sector.”

Clark said: “We know our job every day is to try and get to yes, rather than try to erect barriers … and get to no.”

(Over the conference line, you could practically hear teeth grinding over the sudden, big “no” delivered to the Morrison mine near the Skeena headwaters, despite a review process that clearly arrived at yes. But that decision is still being challenged and the topic didn’t come up publicly.)

She made a few obligatory remarks about leaving the province clean and beautiful, but there wasn’t much doubt her government stands — rhetorically, at least — in favour major resource development.

There was a similar rhetorical commitment to liquefied natural gas, where the tax regime that was promised most of last year is now well behind schedule. (Clark said it will be unveiled soon.)

But a delay in the key piece of the LNG strategy and a rejection of a mine are hiccups. The “managed decline” people are preoccupied with picking a new leader and Clark is back among friends.

Just So You Know: The decision not to charge over the Burns Lake mill fire is so controversial that Clark was prompted to address it in her speech.

When the criminal justice branch explained last week it would not charge the mill for poor safety because of the way WorkSafe B.C. investigated the fire and explosion, Clark responded by ordering a review by her deputy minister, John Dyble.

It’s a move down a very narrow path. Any kind of rethink of the criminal justice branch decision would be well out of bounds, since politicians can’t interfere in that field.

But the decision was so upsetting to the community that some additional measure was considered necessary.

Clark told the audience: “If there are lessons to be learned from the way that case was handled, we will learn them.”

Dyble will likely take two weeks or more and report to Clark. “So we can understand what we do next, if anything, to make sure that this never happens again.”

In the context, it’s clear that “this” means not the explosion, but the fact a company escaped prosecution by way of legalistic interpretations of whether evidence would be admissible.