Mining and protecting jobs are the main priorities for Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett following the Liberal Government’s Throne Speech on Tuesday at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria.
Bennett acknowledged that times are tough for the natural resource industry, but noted that a recent deferral program will allow mines to defer their hydro bills for up to 75 per cent for the next 24 months.
He also cited the process of Site C as positive, adding that the roughly $9 billion project will be a big driver for the provincial economy.
In responding to the throne speech, Bennett noted the importance of analyzing it through the lens of the Liberal government’s fourth consecutive balanced budget and B.C.’s AAA credit rating.
“Obviously what we are doing is working and so we need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We need to keep supporting the natural resource industries and also try to diversify our economy into high-tech and tourism and so forth,” Bennett said.
“One of the main messages in the throne speech is, ‘Hey, we’re doing really well compared to the rest of the country’, so we need to keep doing it and not get tempted into spending too much money or go for unproven ideas.”
Norm Macdonald, NDP MLA for the adjacent Columbia River-Revelstoke riding, said the throne speech didn’t provide any details to help families.
“An awful lot of B.C. families are finding it awfully tough. What’s the government going to do? I don’t see any new ideas. We’ve heard it all before. There is nothing specific that addresses the people’s concerns,” Macdonald said.
“They are saying look how bad it is in Alberta. Well, Alberta doesn’t have MSP payments, ICBC, gas is cheaper. All these little things are taking cash out of people’s pockets. And at the same time, we get a tax cut for the richest two per cent. They’re are not the ones who are struggling.”
Bennett voiced his support for the mining industry, especially for the government’s action on the hydro deferral payment program, noting that with tough times in the natural resource industry, it’s important to help mining companies remain in operation.
“We have five coal mines in my riding. Cranbrook benefits to the tune of tens of millions of dollars every year from the coal industry,” Bennett said. “We have about 500 families that live in Cranbrook that work in the coal industry. There’s 4,000 people in total that work for Teck in the coal industry and then there’s another 4,000 – 5,000 that are indirectly employed by mining.
“So government taking action to help keep these mines open and keep people working is probably the most important thing that I’ve been able to do as an MLA in years.
“What is more important than keeping people at work?”
Bennett predicted that the Liberal government will be tabling a budget with a surplus in the next week or so, which should help towards some other Kootenay East priorities, such as highway improvements and getting a full-time MRI at the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.
Bennett also sounded off on Liquid Natural Gas—a key part of the Liberal government’s 2013 provincial election that promised a $100 billion prosperity fund through the development of LNG. Bennett admitted that the price of oil and the state of the world economy has slowed down progress on LNG development.
“I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the precipitous drop in oil prices. Oil is down to $30 a barrel right now, US. No prognosticator, nobody was saying we’d be down to $25-30 a barrel three, four years ago,” Bennett said. “That has changed the price of gas; when oil goes down, so does natural gas. Natural gas is very cheap right now and it has taken some of the steam out of some of the international drive towards the production of LNG. Having said that, we have at least two LNG megaprojects—one in Kitimat called the LNG Canada and the other one, the Petronas project in Prince Rupert—that I believe will announce they’re going forward in 2016.”
In addition to the two projects in Kitimat and Prince Rupert, there are 18 other proposals on the table that are going through various regulatory and approval processes.
Macdonald also took issue with the government’s projections for LNG development in the province.
“On LNG, it always was made up by numbers,” Macdonald said. “100,000 new jobs is completely made up. It’s simply not reality. No informed person would see that as reasonable. So either the leadership doesn’t know any better or they are deliberately misleading the people of British Columbia.”
With files from Carolyn Grant and the Kimberley Daily Bulletin