BALDREY: For BC Liberals, economic growth tops curbing greenhouse gases

There has been some well reasoned and pointed criticism aimed at the bC Liberal government’s never-ending push to establish an LNG industry in this province, particularly on the issue of whether that industry will hinder attempts at fighting climate change.

But critics who assail the government with the argument that boosting LNG at the expense of increasing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are missing a key point: the bC Liberals are not nearly as interested in curbing GHGs as they are in creating a new revenue stream for government.

While the NDP, the Pembina Institute and Green Party MLa andrew Weaver all pitch valid critiques of the government’s recently unveiled legislation that established the "rules" when it came to emission from LNG operations, they fell on deaf government ears.

The bC Liberals, like the Social Credit dynasty from which they were borne, are driven by a central philosophical tenet: in order to do anything in this province, they must hold political power.

Everything the government does flows from this realization, that political power drives public policy and not the other way around.

The bC Liberals know they were elected not by those with an intense interest in fighting climate change, but by those whose top priority was doing whatever it takes to ensure a growing economy.

The debates that take place in Kitsilano Starbucks outlets are less relevant than ones you hear in coffee shops and bars in Surrey, Kamloops, Prince George and Kelowna.

On paper, the government says it is still committed to reducing GHG emissions by 33 per cent (from 2007 levels) by the year 2020. Whatever. It is a toothless, paper commitment and nothing more.

The 2017 election will not feature GHG emissions and climate change as its central, vote-determining issues and it’s unlikely the election after that one will either, and the bC Liberals are well aware of that. they also know that the vast majority of voters have little concept of, say, "one ton of greenhouse gas emissions" and can’t equate that with something easier to visualize, like a pay cheque for example.

None of this is to suggest that folks like Weaver are incorrect in their conclusion that those lofty targets for cutting GHG emission levels can’t be met with a growing LNG industry. It’s rather that in the stark world of political reality, their arguments aren’t necessarily that politically relevant.

Bellringer a force to Be reckoned with Some interesting financial nuggets have been unearthed by b.C. auditor General Carol bellringer in her massive audit of the government’s 2013-14 financial statements.

She highlighted three different unusual aspects of the government’s budgeting methods, and in her report dutifully noted that the financial statements "can tell an interesting story."

Why, yes they can. For example, she noted the government is paying significantly higher interest rates on the debt it accumulates from public-power partnerships than it does on its own borrowing. While the interest rates on regular government debt averages about four per cent, those rates average more than seven per cent on P3 projects (and in one case exceeded 14 per cent).

Interesting, the government – which has the ability to reply to an auditor general’s findings within the report itself – chose to stay silent on this point in her report.

She also tallied up the incentives paid to the oil and gas industry over the past five years. the incentives are credits designed to encourage the production of oil and gas, and the total has now ballooned to $1.25 billion.

While it’s no doubt true that a lot of companies wouldn’t be as active in gas exploration without those credits, that $1.25 billion can be deducted from future royalty payments, which means a lot of natural gas will have to be extracted before the government even sees a nickel from many companies operating in the sector. bellringer noted last year’s budget included revenue generated by the sale of more than $600 million in public assets, and she rightly pointed out those were one-time sales that can’t generate similar revenue in the future.

That was not a new observation (many people pointed this out when Finance Minister Mike de Jong tabled the 2013-14 budget) but it serves as a reminder how difficult it may be to balance future budgets.

This was bellringer’s first major report on government finances since she was appointed auditor-general at the end of May, and it’s an encouraging sign that she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

Email Keith.Baldrey@globalnews

Email Keith.Baldrey@globalnews

 

Email Keith.Baldrey@globalnews

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