Premier Christy Clark at her Victoria office Dec. 10.

Christy Clark on greenhouse gases and government ads

In a year-end interview, Premier comments on B.C. missing its 2020 greenhouse gas target and prospects for LNG exports

Tom Fletcher sat down with Premier Christy Clark for a year-end interview Dec. 10.

TF: I want to start with your trip to the UN climate conference in Paris. Did you speak about natural gas as a transition fuel, and did you find support for that idea?

PCC: Yes and yes. The new government in Ottawa is a big supporter of our LNG plan, and part of the reason for that is that they also see it as a way forward for Canada to make a huge contribution to fighting global climate change.

There are 150 coal plants on the books to be built in China today. The only way that those plants and the ones that come after will be stopped is if they have a transitional fuel to move to. We all want to get to 100 per cent renewables one of these days, but that’s not going to happen in the next few years, probably not for the next many years.

TF: Prime Minister Trudeau campaigned against subsidies for fossil fuels. That was interpreted by some people as cancelling capital cost allowances for an LNG plant, passed by the previous Stephen Harper government.

PCC: They continue to support that change made by the previous government. They have publicly endorsed that position. LNG will be source of emissions for Canada, but overall it’s going to be a big favour to the world.

TF: B.C.’s 2020 greenhouse gas target, reduction of emissions by a third, another target that isn’t going to be met. Why?

PCC: Some of those targets were more ambitious I think than were possible for us to meet. When the government brought in the carbon tax and the first iteration of the climate change plan, it was based on the assumption that other jurisdictions around us were going to eventually catch up. And none of them have.

And so the balance that we have to find is to make sure that we’re environmental leaders at the same time that we’re protecting jobs and growing the economy. And there comes a point where the carbon tax can only get so high before we start chasing all those jobs out of the province.

Those emitters go to other jurisdictions, they take the jobs with them and they pollute more than they would in B.C. because they’re under a lax environmental regime. That’s what we want to avoid, and that’s been part of the reason why this has slowed.

TF: You’ve been promoting B.C.’s revenue neutral approach to carbon tax globally now. Your advisory committee says it needs to go higher starting in 2018 if it’s going to have an effect. Do you really have a choice there?

PCC: Let’s see what happens in the rest of the country. Let’s figure out what the national goal is going to be, which we don’t know yet. Other provinces are starting to get closer to where we are. By 2018, Alberta’s going to have come some way. By then Ontario will be into a plan, and Quebec already is.

The thing that I thought was really interesting about the Climate Leadership Team’s results was their acknowledgement that environmental policy and economic competitiveness have to work together.

I really want to congratulate Merran Smith and Tzeporah Berman for thinking so untraditionally about this. Ten years ago you wouldn’t have found many active environmentalists who wanted to work so hard to protect trade-exposed energy-intensive industries. Pretty amazing.

TF: On a related topic, transit spending. Your new minister Peter Fassbender has talked about a “new day” in Ottawa and he’s downplaying the idea of another referendum for new funding sources. Is that off the table now?

PCC: It’s the law, so it’s on the table. It may be possible that the federal government wants to invest more in transit, and take up some of the slack from the local government level. There are a lot of different possible solutions that might mean it doesn’t have to go to referendum. And we are very much at the forefront of that discussion with the federal government.

TF: You’re not changing that referendum law?

PCC: Nope. People deserve a say.

TF: On LNG, oil and natural gas prices are continuing to go down, and supply continues to go up around the world. Did you see any positive signs in the market this year?

PCC: What I saw this year was developing countries, especially China, making a firm commitment to reduce their emissions. They say they’re going to peak in 2030. The only way for them to do that is to move to a greater degree to natural gas, and the bulk of their industry is still located on the east coast of their country, a long way from Russia and close to B.C.

So I think the concern about climate change is going to rebalance the market for natural gas.

I guess the other positive sign is that nobody has accurately predicted any of these changes, negative or positive, in the past. I’m not sure if what’s happening today would even predict the future.

But I do know that countries are going to be looking to natural gas as the primary solution to the climate change issues they’re trying to resolve.

TF: Veresen has just green-lighted a second gas processing plant for the Montney region, so they must have some confidence.

PCC: Producers have invested $20 billion in B.C. so far and there’s no sign of that slowing down. These are long, 30-year agreements. I’m going to be 80 by the time some of those agreements expire. Goldman Sachs couldn’t predict this latest downturn in oil. I don’t think anybody knows what it’s going to look like in 30 years.

TF: The high cost of urban housing. Are we going to see some policy action in 2016, and will there be some relief from the property transfer tax?

PCC: You’ll see in the February budget, but we are looking for ways to provide some relief for home buyers.

There are two things we can do to make life more affordable for people. One is to reduce taxes, and the other is to create a stronger economy for more people to get higher-paying jobs. We’re working on both.

Frankly I think the job creation side of it is the one that needs the most attention, because we already have really low taxes in the province comparatively. In terms of property purchase, we’re looking at that now, but I can’t give you an definitive answer.

TF: We’re starting to see government advertising ramp up. We saw a lot of Jobs Plan advertising before the 2013 election, we saw the federal government do it with their Economic Action Plan, which was very expensive, and to most people’s eye self-serving or political in nature at taxpayers’ expense. Is that what we’re going to see in the next year and a half?

PCC: It won’t be political. I think some of that was, really, political. You saw a lot of advertising this summer, for example, anti-forest fires. And that all gets counted in there.

You will see more information-based advertising out there, talking to people about for example, the Registered Education Savings Plan. People need to know that, so you’ll see more of that.

TF: Not Jobs Plan 2.0?

PCC: I don’t think that’s in the plan. I wish I could say to you no, never, but I, you know….

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: Twitter: @tomfletcherbc