Coal-fired power plant shrouded in smog south of Beijing, November 2016. China’s government cancelled 100 coal-fired projects last year, but is proceeding with another 700. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. VIEWS: Premier John Horgan sees the light on LNG tax incentives

B.C.’s latest climate targets impossible, but that’s nothing new

In January I reminded readers that for all the bluster of the Christy Clark years, with LNG and “debt free B.C.,” John Horgan never actually opposed chilling and exporting northeast B.C.’s abundant shale gas to Asia.

He’s fine with hydraulic fracturing too. He just promised an independent study, like he did with the Site C dam. As NDP opposition leader, it was politically convenient to sound like he detested both of these time-tested industries, the better to calm urban voters raised on a steady diet of environmental scare stories.

Now that he’s premier, the real Horgan emerges. It’s a more abrupt transition than I expected, considering his government hangs by the thinnest of green threads. Horgan seems to have found one of Clark’s old LNG hardhats in the premier’s office, and he likes the fit.

The Shell-led LNG Canada project, $40 billion worth of pipelines, processing and shipping out of Kitimat, is now Horgan’s top priority. The “LNG income tax,” brought in by the B.C. Liberals, will be repealed. Construction will be exempted from sales tax as with manufacturing plants, and LNG Canada will even be exempted from carbon tax increases that start this year.

RELATED: LNG Canada welcomes B.C. tax breaks

B.C. Hydro power will be sold at the industrial rate, as it should be, although the old Horgan used to call that a subsidy from residential ratepayers.

When Clark and the B.C. Liberals were in full flight, summoning the legislature in the summer of 2015 to set conditions for the Petronas-led Pacific Northwest LNG, Horgan took to calling lead minister Rich Coleman “the gas man.”

He railed for years against what we now know are much more modest LNG tax breaks. “Shell does not need handouts from government,” he told a Victoria’s CFAX radio in 2013.

“Christy Clark reassures us that moving India and China away from coal-burning facilities to LNG facilities is the cleanest, greenest answer,” NDP MLA Michelle Mungall told her hometown Nelson Star in 2016. “I can’t believe how ridiculous that is. It’s still a fossil fuel.”

Guess who is now Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources? (Much to her own surprise I suspect.) And guess who’s the new gas man, as LNG policy is directed by the premier’s office?

Horgan made his first visit to China in January, where he experienced the smog-choked air in a vast country that is still building hundreds more coal-fired electricity plants to power its mind-boggling urban development.

“I stood on the bank of the Pearl River and I couldn’t see the other side,” Horgan said.

I toured China two years ago and I agree with him. It has to be seen, and smelled, and tasted, to fully appreciate the scale of the building boom and the pollution crisis.

Green leader Andrew Weaver has been proven right for once. If this deal goes ahead, Site C power will be used to green up B.C. LNG, sold at the same discount industrial rate sawmills get.

Weaver was briefed on the government’s talks with LNG Canada, a rare consortium of Shell, PetroChina, KOGAS of South Korea and Japanese giant Mitsubishi. He insists that B.C.’s 2030 and 2050 targets can’t be met with LNG. They can’t be met without it either, barring some miraculous technological breakthrough.

Weaver will vote against the tax breaks, especially the carbon tax relief, when legislation comes this fall.

For now, that doesn’t matter, because the B.C. Liberals have to support LNG. We’ll see how outraged Weaver is next February, when he is asked to support another NDP budget.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
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