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
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.