One of the highlights of the week in the Legislature was the Minister of Transportation’s extraordinarily rapid U-Turn on the future of the Nanaimo-Horseshoe Bay ferry run. If he’d been in a car, there would have been tire marks on the pavement.
As I mentioned last week, the Ferry Commissioner has been seeking input on plans by BC Ferries for the coming years. Among those plans was the possibility of cutting the Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay route. Back in March, when rumours about this were swirling, the Minister denied any such plans. But on Tuesday this week he said the BC Liberals would look at closing Departure Bay and cutting the current service. After a province-wide outcry – and questions from me in the Legislature– he backtracked and is now saying that the government is committed to both Nanaimo routes and that the Horseshoe Bay run is “iconic”.
My only fear is that the Minister will now use this as an excuse to raise the fares yet again, claiming it is necessary to cover the estimated $200-million bill to fix the Horseshoe Bay terminal. The Minister and the BC Liberals still don’t understand that ferries are both part of the provincial infrastructure as well as a transportation system. No-one expects roads or buses to turn a profit – but the message is very different for BC Ferries and the provincial economic repercussions are huge.
The repercussions of not getting the tax framework right for liquefied natural gas are also huge for the province. We came back to the Legislature this fall to discuss that tax regime, but Bill 6 which introduces the LNG Income Tax shows the BC Liberals have got it very wrong. In the run-up to the last election, the Premier went on and on about the billions of dollars that LNG would bring the province. She claimed it would mean an end to the provincial debt (which is growing very rapidly under the Premier’s watch from $45 billion when she took over to $69 billion by 2017), an end to sales tax and a prosperity fund. The fantasy she created would be like BC winning the biggest lottery jackpot in the world. Then in the February budget the government said the tax on LNG would be 7 percent. However, the bill before us now has that tax at 3.5%, not 7%, and that only coming into effect in 2037. Up to then it’s going to be 1.5% and there are huge loopholes for companies to get tax breaks on everything from their pre-construction costs, such as land acquisition, through to writing off the 1.5% against the 3.5% rate (complicated, but true).
I spoke about this in the Legislature accusing the BC Liberals of bowing to the pressure of the multinational corporations that run the industry and effectively selling out the province. If we are going to develop the LNG we need to have some standards. We already know that the BC Liberals are cutting corners on environmental aspects and emission controls which is particularly troubling given that earlier this week the latest UN report on global warming was published containing blunt warnings about climate change and the absolute necessity to take action now. And there are other aspects of the BC Liberals approach to LNG development that raise concerns. We need to make sure that people from BC get the training and get the jobs that will flow from the industry. We need to ensure that First Nations are fully involved. And we need to makes sure that British Columbians get the economic benefits.
We still have other resource industries as the North Island well knows. I raised with the Minister of Forests the issue of the temporary shutdown of the Port Alice mill. Neucel has announced a two month shut down to do much needed repairs. But the company faces an ongoing problem of access to fibre. As one of the main economic generators on Vancouver Island, I urged the Minister to work to find a solution.
I also raised concerns about safety on our highways during Question Period . This after two contradictory reports came to light about the Coquihalla bus crash last summer in which almost 50 people were injured. The first, a review of the bus company’s operations, gave it a clean bill of health; the second, an audit done after the accident, found numerous problems. This was a result of a change in government policy that allows for much laxer standards for road safety compliance. This coupled with a lack of safety inspectors on the road could result in more accidents. I was surprised to find the Minister had not even read the audit report.
It was a pleasure to acknowledge in the Legislature, the retirement of Port McNeill’s Mayor, Gerry Furney. Mayor Furney and I may not see eye to eye politically but I have great admiration for his hard work and his lifelong dedication to his community.
I also was pleased to meet and greet a group from Timberline High School who had come for a visit to the Legislature and were able to watch the performance that is Question Period.
Next week we are back in our constituencies for the Remembrance Day week. I’ll be in a number of our communities over the coming week, ending it at Winterfest in Sointula. On November 11th itself, I will be marking the day in Campbell River (at the Legion breakfast) and Gold River (for the laying of the wreath).
I can always be reached by phone at my Campbell River office: 250 287 5100 or toll free at 1 866 387 5100 or in Port Hardy on 250 949 9473. My email is: Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org and feel free to friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @clairetrevena.