By Bob Simpson
British Columbia has a legal requirement to reduce Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to consult with and accommodate First Nations, and to balance the budget by 2013.
Based on what I see in [Premier Christy Clark’s] job plan, all three of these laws will most likely be broken in order to achieve the premier’s desired outcomes.
The “Canada Starts Here” plan is predicated on significant expansion of two GHG-intensive industries: oil and gas, and mining.
Recent reports have pointed out that the expansion of the oil and gas sector alone will make it impossible for B.C. to achieve its legally required GHG reduction targets of 33 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050 using 2007 as the baseline.
Adding the GHG emissions of eight more mines and nine mine expansions to the oil and gas sector’s emissions makes Premier Clark’s claim that B.C. will still meet its climate-change objectives laughable – were it not for two stark realities: GHG emissions have to be reduced to avoid catastrophic climate change, and the law requires the premier to meet B.C.’s emission reduction targets.
The promised expansion of B.C.’s economy, especially the specific targets associated with mining, suggests the government will continue to fail to meet its legal “duty to consult” with First Nations.
Pronouncing that eight new mines will be opened, nine expanded and10 First Nations agreements signed by 2015 is highly presumptive on the part of the premier and may turn out to have the opposite to her desired effect. Her ironclad pronouncement may simply give First Nations leverage to force the provincial government to address their concerns or face not achieving the centerpiece of the Premier’s job strategy.
The recent rushed approval of an expansion permit for Mount Polley Mine in central B.C. reinforces First Nations’ fears the government will simply push through these permits without regard to their concerns and legal rights.
This approach will likely see First Nations take more legal action or public protests, which will only add more uncertainty to B.C.’s investment climate and reduce the chance of getting all those mines opened and expanded by 2015.
Finally, the government seems bent on spending even more money on corporate welfare schemes to achieve its economic goals. The fact that almost four decades of tax cuts, deregulation, and corporate bailouts have brought the world economy to the brink of collapse doesn’t seem to have made an impression on those who helped develop B.C.’s new job strategy.
Most likely the premier’s tax panel will advise giving more tax revenue away in the form of corporate and business tax cuts and subsidies. The finance minister has indicated we’re in tough fiscal times already and that’s without accounting for the sharp rise in demand on the public coffers from an aging population, aging infrastructure, and a younger generation that isn’t as healthy as their forbearers.
Even if you grant the premier will achieve all of her economic promises, there will be a significant lag time before government revenues will increase as a result. That means it’s simply not reasonable for the Ms. Clark to assert she will still be able to balance the budget in 2013 without either massive cuts to the public sector, which is not likely given that’s an election year, or a pre-2013 election “fudge-it budget.”
Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North