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Les Leyne: More hopes pinned on liquefied natural gas prospects

Premier Christy Clark made two more moves Monday to tie B.C.’s future — and hers as well — to liquefied natural gas.

Premier Christy Clark made two more moves Monday to tie B.C.’s future — and hers as well — to liquefied natural gas.

Her throne speech two weeks ago was so devoted to future LNG prospects that people were joking she delivered the 2020 throne speech seven years ahead of schedule.

Last week’s budget was focused on the short-term requirement to balance the coming year’s books. So it more or less ignored the concept, except for two dreamy pages about what you could do with $180 billion in revenue.

But this week, she returned to LNG, for the simple reason it’s the only exciting thing her government has going on at the moment.

Clark announced a royalty-credit program that would reward companies involved in LNG with up to $120 million in benefits. The program has been in place for several years and is credited with spurring $1.7 billion worth of investment. It looks a lot like a subsidy, because it is, but one that has a proven record of return.

The cost would be carried on the books as forgone revenue, but every dollar forgiven so far means $2.50 has been invested in either roads or pipelines. The doors are open for applications until April 18, so the high value and the short window show the government expects some serious interest.

Appearing at an international LNG conference in Vancouver, Clark also reaffirmed that B.C. First Nations have to be dealt in. She confirmed $32 million in government funds to a native partnership that will invest in a key pipeline proposed as part of the mammoth project. The Pacific Trails pipeline, from near Prince George to the proposed LNG plants at Kitimat, would carry natural gas to the coast, where it would be liquefied and shipped to Asia for a premium price.

She also said a workforce strategy group will have a forecast of labour needs out by April. Finding and training the thousands of people needed to work on the projects is a key issue in the planning process.

Clark got an effusive welcome from industry officials at the conference, and her speech pressed the point that B.C. is not getting ahead of itself on the concept.

“These decisions aren’t 10 years away, they need to be made now,” she said. “The window of opportunity to export … will not be open forever. There’s absolutely no time to waste.”

Part of the time pressure comes from Australia, where competing projects to supply the same market are underway.

Clark boasted that B.C. is getting the jump on them. “We’re leaving them in the dust, more and more every day.”

She assured the many companies represented at the gathering that “our government will be your steadfast partner in realizing this opportunity.”

An hour before she spoke, MLAs in Victoria batted the LNG issue around. A meaningless motion from the Liberals to support the industry prompted an hour of back-and-forth. If they thought they would flush the New Democrats out as opponents of the vision, they thought wrong.

Opposition MLAs appear cautiously supportive of the overall concept, although not as wildly enthusiastic as the Liberals.

NDP MLA Rob Fleming said it has to be developed responsibly, and hydraulic fracturing concerns have to be addressed.

“They know their licence to do business in B.C. depends upon the public having confidence that water isn’t being squandered and wasted, that it’s not being contaminated and that science-based policy governs it,” he said.

Opposition leader Adrian Dix later pointed out to reporters another issue that has to be addressed — the Liberal government’s own law written to combat global warming.

He said LNG decisions are going to be made in international markets and B.C. has to prepare for them by “addressing issues around our legally prescribed emission limits.”

The thinking is that B.C. can follow the law and cut greenhouse gases by 33 per cent by 2020, or it can get in on the epic LNG boom.

But it can’t do both.

Just So You Know: Another small sign of which way people think the political winds are blowing — Fleming said a senior government official who briefs regularly on LNG lists the following in his outline as a positive — the fact the current Opposition “has a long history of supporting the natural gas sector.”