BY BILL PHILLIPS
If there was ever any doubt about Premier John Horgan’s support for the liquefied natural gas industry in B.C., he put those doubts to rest Wednesday at the BC Natural Resources Forum.
“I have been, and will continue to be a supporter of our oil and gas sector,” Horgan told more than 1,000 delegates at the forum, adding he was part of the NDP government in the 1990s which established the Oil and Gas Commission. He said since that time he has been criticized for his stance on LNG, which has been, at times misconstrued.
“At no time did I ever say that I was against LNG, quite the contrary,” he said. “I continued to say, as a critic for the sector, as a leader of the opposition, and as a prospective premier, that LNG was an extraordinary opportunity for British Columbians but it had to come to British Columbia with four key conditions in mind.”
The conditions, he said, are that there has to be a return to the people of British Columbia, that LNG projects provide jobs for British Columbians, that First Nations had to be included and full partners, and, lastly, develop projects in a way that are sensitive to the environment.
He said he presented the conditions to the LNG industry, which told him that if the industry isn’t profitable, nothing will happen.
“(Industry leaders) made it pretty clear to me if we’re going to be successful, we had to sharpen our pencils,” he said. “We had to make sure that we were treating LNG like we were treating any other investor. We shouldn’t have a super tax that we wouldn’t apply to a pulp mill or a sawmill or a mine. We should have an industrial tax rate that applies to everyone.”
That, of course, was in reference to the previous Liberal government which developed a separate tax regime for LNG projects in hopes of enticing development in the province.
“Whatever sector you come from, you want to be treated as fairly as any other sector you’re competing with,” he said.
Horgan said the NDP government sat down with the LNG sector and agreed that the LNG tax “was a bad idea, so we rejected it.”
He added the previous Liberal government instituted a special hydro rate for LNG producers, also in hopes of helping the industry develop.
“In defence of the previous Liberal government, they came up with all of these ideas when prices were high,” Horgan said. “All of you working in commodities know that when prices are high, the next thing that will happen, is they will be lower.”
So, the special hydro rate was eliminated.
“If we are going to be competitive in a world market, we can’t burden those who want to invest in British Columbia with policies and practices and taxes that they would not see in other jurisdictions,” he said.
The previous Liberal government also instituted a carbon tax, which is an issue for several other provinces right now. Horgan said that he believes most British Columbians are supportive of putting a price on carbon.
“So we weren’t going to move on the principles of carbon pricing,” he said. “But we were prepared to move when it came to energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries because it doesn’t make any sense to say to one sector of the economy that we want you to help us get to our goals, but we’re not going to help you get to your goals.”
He said when the government developed the Clean BC plan, the goal is to be a national and global leader on climate action, but not in a way that limits investment to the province.
Trying hard to heed his mother’s advice to “put humility over hubris,” Horgan said he was indeed proud of the fact that LNG Canada has decided to move forward with its facility near Kitimat. It is the largest private sector investment in Canadian history … “under the watch of an NDP government … go figure.”
He credited LNG Canada for doing a great job of involving Indigenous communities in the process and, in reference to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ continued opposition to the pipeline for the facility, Horgan said governments have to learn to understand the Indigenous communities.
“It’s incumbent on all of us to understand what hereditary leadership means because it was here long before we arrived,” he said.
Horgan also had a message for those who are worried that the province endorsed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples … give it a try.
“Free, prior and informed consent are not swear words,” he said. “And most importantly, it is not one word … veto. It is an opportunity for Indigenous people to have a seat at the table and for the non-Indigenous community, it’s an opportunity to do what’s right and also to make sure there is benefit for everyone.”