Resources forum full of surprises



This year’s B.C. Natural Resources Forum was truly remarkable … in a lot of different ways.

The speaker line-up was stellar, as always, but there were a few other things that made the event unique.

Firstly, kudos to Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris and his staff for organizing the event. And kudos for inviting Premier John Horgan to be the keynote speaker, taking over the time slot allotted to Christy Clark when she was premier and when it was known as the Premier’s B.C. Natural Resources Forum. Some might think this is a no-brainer, and it probably should be, but let’s not forget this is, or at least began as, a Liberal event. They didn’t have to invite Horgan, but they did.

Kudos also to the organizers for getting at least a half-dozen NDP cabinet ministers to not only attend the event, but participate.

After all, bringing the policy-makers and industry together is what it’s all about. Face-to-face time still beats FaceTime.

As might be expected, Horgan’s speech was markedly different from pretty much any speech his predecessor gave. Horgan didn’t have any goodies to announce and gave a straightforward speech about what the NDP government are about. He joked about counting his time in office in weeks because it is, after all, a minority government. He didn’t deliver a campaign speech, unlike Clark who could deliver nothing else.

Clark would also never miss an opportunity to bash the NDP. Horgan, on the other hand, refused to take a swipe at the Liberals and went out of his way to joke with Morris and Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad about giving them pointers about how to be in opposition … for a long time. He also said he has worked for years with Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond and that even though the local MLAs are in opposition, the city’s interests will be well represented in the Legislature.

It’s certainly a different type of leadership.

However, the NDP is still a young government and could still learn a thing or two from the likes of Shirley Bond.

I was not the only one shaking my head this week. On Tuesday, the Prince George Chamber of Commerce held its #TrueNorth2018 business forum, as a prelude to Natural Resources Forum. At the chamber forum, Northern Development Initiative Trust announced $1.6 million in funding for two programs in the North. Excellent. Innovation Minister Bruce Ralston and Forest Minister Doug Donaldson got themselves onto the agenda and made a few comments during the announcement, even though it really wasn’t a provincial program or provincial announcement. OK, that’s something Shirley would have done.

But minutes later, and I do mean minutes because the media had to race to get to both events, the much-awaited undergraduate engineering program was announced at UNBC. This was made possible by provincial funding. It’s a provincial thing.

No NDP government presence at the announcement.

There were a slew of cabinet ministers in town. I rushed out of meeting with two of them to get to the UNBC announcement, so I know they were here.

Advanced Education Minister Melanie Mark was supposed to attend the UNBC announcement, but her now-fiance popped the question literally the day before so she cancelled. Fair enough, but couldn’t the NDP get one of the cabinet ministers who were already in town to step in?

Missing an announcement like that is something Bond, or the Liberals would never do.

Then there was the impromptu, but well-scripted, show of support for the liquefied natural gas industry at the natural resources forum Thursday, led by Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman, who obviously has her sights set higher politically.

Somewhat tone-deaf to Horgan’s endorsement of LNG a day earlier, albeit not as ‘rah-rah-y’ as Clark’s, Ackerman, Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead, Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth, Haisla councillor Kevin Stewart all voiced support for the industry and urged the provincial and federal governments to get on with it. Fair enough, LNG isn’t in every conversation Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have these days.

During her talk, Ackerman called for “everyone in the room who supports LNG” to come up on stage. About half the room did, making for a great photo-op. But for the rest it was an awkward moment, an example of how the politics of really division feels.