It’s time to buckle up B.C., 2015 will be a wild ride

Plenty of big ideas and projects on the year’s cal­en­dar

The Province - - News - MICHAEL SMYTH msmyth@ the­p­rovince.com twit­ter.com/ mikesmyth­news the­p­rov.in/ michaelsmyth

It’s a big year for big projects and big ideas. It’s a year when they’ll all be put to the test. In many cases, First Na­tions and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists will square off against politi­cians and lead­ers of in­dus­try in a bat­tle of money and wills. And lawyers, of course.

It’s a big year for big pol­i­tics, too. A year when Premier Christy Clark’s elec­tion prom­ises will be squarely on the line, and a fed­eral elec­tion looms that could be one for the ages. Wel­come to 2015, a big year for B. C:

LIQ­UE­FIED NAT­U­RAL GAS: Clark won the 2013 elec­tion on the strength of a spec­tac­u­lar prom­ise to cre­ate a brand-new in­dus­try in Bri­tish Columbia.

Clark’s prom­ise of liq­ue­fied-nat­u­ral-gas pros­per­ity was like a po­lit­i­cal big-bang the­ory: The LNG mir­a­cle would ex­plode into re­al­ity from noth­ing to rapidly be­come the big­gest in­dus­try in the prov­ince.

But, as 2014 ended, there were no signed LNG deals.

“Some­times, the things that give you the most sat­is­fac­tion are the things that are the most dif­fi­cult to do,” En­ergy Min­is­ter Bill Ben­nett told me.

“There’s a lot of wheel­ing and deal­ing hap­pen­ing be­hind the scenes. We’re go­ing to end up with mul­ti­ple fa­cil­i­ties man­u­fac­tur­ing LNG in this prov­ince.” But why the de­lay? Ben­nett said the big gas com­pa­nies don’t want to tip their hands early as they ne­go­ti­ate with sup­pli­ers and con­trac­tors.

“They would de­stroy their bar­gain­ing po­si­tion,” he said, pre­dict­ing the $10-bil­lion LNG plant pro­posed by Malaysia’s Petronas will go ahead in 2015.

But doubts con­tinue to swirl.

METRO VAN­COU­VER TRAN­SIT-TAX REF­ER­EN­DUM: The idea to hike the provin­cial sales tax by half-a-point to pay for tran­sit, road and bridge im­prove­ments will be put to a mailin plebiscite in the spring.

The prob­lem: Many Metro res­i­dents feel tapped-out and taxed-out, leav­ing Yes pro­po­nents like Iain Black with a chal­lenge.

“Ev­ery­one wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there,” said the pres­i­dent of the Van­cou­ver Board of Trade.

“Ev­ery­one kind of wants the sys­tem out there but no one wants to pay for it.” How to over­come that? By point­ing out the cost peo­ple are pay­ing now from con­gested roads and in­ad­e­quate tran­sit, Black said.

“We are pay­ing it in the ad­di­tional time it takes our small busi­nesses to move their goods. We are pay­ing it in the fact our em­ploy­ees are tak­ing longer to get back and forth to work.”

But con­vinc­ing peo­ple to pay more tax to fix it will still be a tall or­der.

OIL PIPE­LINES: The back­ers of two ma­jor Al­berta-to-B.C. oil pipe­lines hoped to start con­struc­tion on their megapro­jects in 2015.

But as the new year dawns, op­po­si­tion is ramp­ing up, threat­en­ing to de­lay or even scut­tle the projects.

More than 100 peo­ple were ar­rested on Burn­aby Moun­tain as they tried to block work on the pro­posed Kinder Mor­gan pipe­line.

The pro­test­ers threaten more civil dis­obe­di­ence

if work pro­ceeds. And in north­ern B.C., op­po­nents of the En­bridge pipe­line promised a his­toric en­vi­ron­men­tal bat­tle to stop that project.

“It will never get built,” said Keith Ste­wart of Green­peace.

“If they try to build it, there will be court cases and block­ades that will make the Clay­oquot Sound protests of the 1990s look like a tea party.”

THESITECDAM: It’s the big­gest pub­lic-sec­tor project in the his­tory of Bri­tish Columbia: a third gi­ant hy­dro­elec­tric dam on the Peace River that will gen­er­ate 1,100 megawatts of power and cost nearly $9 bil­lion to build.

Premier Clark said shov­els will be in the ground this sum­mer, but the peo­ple who live in the area — and whose prop­er­ties will be flooded out by the project — vow to fight.

“We’re go­ing to take this right to the end,” said Ken Boon, who lives on a fam­ily farm in the flood zone. “We’re very de­ter­mined.”

But the Clark gov­ern­ment says the pub­lic in­ter­est of build­ing the dam over­rides the pri­vate in­ter­est of the landown­ers. The gov­ern­ment has the power of ex­pro­pri­a­tion and says res­i­dents will be com­pen­sated for their land.

“I’m sorry for what they’re go­ing through,” said Ben­nett, the en­ergy min­is­ter. “But I’m elected to rep­re­sent all 4.5 mil­lion Bri­tish Columbians. This is the decision that is in the best in­ter­est of the prov­ince.”

The lawyers for landown­ers and af­fected First Na­tions are set to fight.

“This val­ley is beau­ti­ful — a trea­sure for all of B.C.,” said Boon, in­sist­ing he will refuse any money of­fered to him by the gov­ern­ment. “I wouldn’t want to live any­where else.”

This one is headed to court, and I sus­pect the shov­els won’t get dirty this sum­mer.

THE FED­ERAL ELEC­TION: As 2015 starts to wind down, it will be time for the cap­per: one humdinger of a fed­eral elec­tion.

It will be the Con­ser­va­tives’ Stephen Harper ver­sus the Lib­er­als’ Justin Trudeau ver­sus the NDP’s Thomas Mul­cair in the elec­tion cur­rently sched­uled for Oct. 19.

“The first three-way race in Cana­dian his­tory,” Mul­cair calls it, though polls sug­gest Trudeau’s resur­gent Lib­er­als could re­place Mul­cair as Harper’s main chal­lenger.

If things are close, it means Bri­tish Columbia’s votes — al­ways the last to be counted in the coun­try — could make a dif­fer­ence for a change.

Buckle up. We’re in for a wild ride in 2015.

Premier Christy Clark speaks to the me­dia about the Site C project ap­proval dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Vic­to­ria late last year. Michael Smyth says he ex­pects this case to go to court. ‘I sus­pect the shov­els won’t get dirty this sum­mer,’ Smyth says.

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