It has unfortunatly become rare for the B.C. government to hold a legislative sitting in the fall. Rarer still, is a fall Throne Speech. The Throne Speech last month outlined the government's plans for LNG, and it was a notable change in rhetoric from the election-time language promises of a "debt-free B.C." and prosperity fund.
My response is below:
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2014
Throne Speech Debate
V. Huntington: We are here this fall responding to a rare throne speech that reiterates the consuming goal of this government: the way to make LNG happen before the trade window closes. Making LNG happen in what government characterizes is the chance of a lifetime — an either-or opportunity.
I think most British Columbians wish the government well in its negotiations on this clear-cut economic opportunity. We would like to see the benefits of an efficient LNG regulatory and taxation regime that accrue not just to industry, but even more to the people of the province.
We hope it will be the prize government claims, because it will mean the difference between unimagined — according to the government — prosperity or the slower, more classic B.C. economy that has, with ups and downs, maintained a standard of living and a quality of life that has served us fairly well.
But there is doubt out there. We are hesitant to accept the assurances by government that wealth is at our doorstep. Why? Because so many of us have values that extend beyond this government's narrow focus on development.
Do we want the levels of prosperity promised if it means our resources are going to be gutted for the benefit of offshore buyers? Do we want a prosperity that pretends to mitigate irredeemable losses to our environment? Do we want a prosperity that is built upon imported labour, imported physical plants, imported attitudes toward corporate citizenship?
We shouldn't have to be worried about these things. We should be confident that the broader values the public interest holds would be the same as those of government. But we aren't confident at all, and we worry that the long-term public interest is not being protected.
We worry about the environmental impact of these developments. Why? Because our Minister of Environment has a mandate to say "Yes" to development in spite of concerns that the possibility of disaster is real and the reality of disaster would mean irretrievable loss of sensitive habitats.
It didn't matter that the Fraser River estuary is threatened by an aviation fuel spill. It didn't matter that Site C has alternatives that could and should have been examined. It didn't matter that our parks were once off-limits. It didn't matter if we reduced enforcement and inspection, and if we have to manipulate facts about emissions in order to pretend we are building a clean industry, well, that doesn't matter either.
The result is that we, the people, no longer trust that our Environment Minister is charged with protecting our beautiful land. Rather, we know it is there to streamline or gut every effective piece of meaningful environmental legislation and regulation on the books, a reality that the government called in its budget "process improvements" that will "ensure that timelines are appropriate for…economic development."
And the tax regime the government is bringing in. Will we find we have given up our sovereignty in order to get the promised prosperity? Will B.C. really prosper the way government claims? Will we discover that the Premier's promises for an LNG windfall weaken the provincial bargaining position in an internationally competitive marketplace? Will we ultimately see a net benefit from LNG development?
That is the question. Can we believe that the costs and benefits of the total package have been holistically examined, with all our inputs and incentives fully costed and calculated into the overall potential?
Now there are hints that the tax package will limit municipal taxation room. Will government legislate an LNG tax cap from municipalities, just like it has for port development? Will the province compensate municipalities? Has the province brought municipalities into the discussion, or will it just announce the penalty after the fact? Have those costs been built into the cost-benefit analyses?
There are so many questions, and the lack of detail and transparency sadly results in a less-than-enthusiastic support for the project. What a difference it would make if the government had ensured some form of all-party or independent involvement in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enrich British Columbia, if the government had somehow reached out to the opposition and brought the opposition leaders into the fold with regular, detailed, confidential briefings.
If the government had a real desire for input, it would have strengthened this generational opportunity in the eyes of British Columbians. It is hard to stand up with a wholehearted "Yes" when so many questions and so little knowledge dominate the project of a lifetime.
All of that said, I hope the government does well in its negotiations. I hope the potential of LNG is realized. And I hope the north isn't torn apart in our urgency and that our land continues to be a beautiful and rich legacy we can pass to the future.
The government has worked hard to make LNG a reality, and I wish it well. A prosperous LNG industry in B.C.'s north will be the generational game changer the government claims if it is done well, safely and with the interests of the people foremost in mind.
In his response to the throne speech, the Minister of Natural Gas Development said something very interesting. He admitted: "It is a challenging thing to take on something this massive in a short period of time and amass the resources of government and focus it in one direction." He went on to say: "Every single ministry, every single deputy minister, every single ADM and other people right down through government cooperate without silos. We're all working together in a way I have never seen in my 18½ years in this House."
I wondered what we could have accomplished if this government had approached some of our other great issues in the same manner. What would happen if government decided to tackle the subject of health care in the same focused, determined way? What could we do with the social policy file if we focused on the issue, without silos, with a determination of a single priority directive to all deputies, ADMS and administrators?
We could probably solve our greatest public policy problems. That's what would happen.
These huge public policy dilemmas need just such a vast new approach, an approach that considers the issues so critical to the public interest that the silos of government are broken down just as they have been in the LNG file. I know the government will say: "We did it because without LNG we cannot afford health or social supports." But that possibility is what makes the need to innovate so much greater.
Can you imagine what this province could accomplish if our deputies, our ADMS, our administrators, directors and policy analysts were directed to revolutionize the delivery of health services to the province; if the financial and service silos were removed and the whole delivery system re-examined with a new and innovative eye; if the barriers to delivery in areas of mental health, dementia, care homes, at-risk youth, acute care, emergency care and on and on were rethought and reorganized; if we actually measured our success by the outcomes that a new, pragmatic delivery model could engender?
Similarly, can you imagine what could be accomplished by a focused priority review across all ministries of our social policy framework? We could focus on the development of a modern, efficient, compassionate approach to delivering services to those who need assistance. We could look at whole new possibilities — possibilities that would give that dignity, that would reduce complexities, that could reduce costs and provide enriched care.
We could develop that child poverty plan. We could look at the costs and benefits of a guaranteed income. We could reduce the layers upon layers of bits and pieces of support. We could give individuals the ability to make their own decisions, live without fear of homelessness or hunger. This government could provide the leadership that sets that direction, because revolution does need intelligent and extraordinary leadership.
The throne speech goes on — ad nauseam, I must say — about leadership. I answer that throne speech boast by challenging the government to achieve its goal in the LNG sector and then to go and apply that focus and leadership to other policy areas — areas that desperately need every single deputy, every ADM, every director, every administrator to put their minds to the task. Make war against ourselves and lead us to a goal of achieving a new way of delivering health and a new way of supporting our most vulnerable. Show real leadership and truly accomplish a revolution in this province.
It can be done. The government is doing it in the industrial sector. Now it should move on to the social and health sectors, and it should be the leader it claims to be.