Ever since she became leader of the B.C. Liberal party, Christy Clark has sought to distance herself from her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, whenever possible.
She may be doing it again when it comes to dealing with climate change.
Campbell loved to boast that B.C. was leading all of North America when it came to fighting climate change. He set ambitious targets, enshrined in law, for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (33 per cent of 2007 levels by 2020) and brought in the carbon tax.
But soon after Campbell unveiled his ambitious plan, the world economy collapsed and a recession ensued. Suddenly, governments - including B.C.'s - experienced plunging revenues and massive deficits.
The reverberations from that economic disaster continue to be felt. The Clark government, like many others, is still hungry for revenues and less interested in spending a lot of time talking about things like carbon credit schemes and greenhouse gas emissions.
While her government insists it is still committed to achieving the targets set out by Campbell, the centrepiece of its economic strategy is massive industrial activity that could greatly increase GHG emissions.
The creation of liquefied natural gas plants in the northwest, for example, will greatly increase the amount of natural gas burned to create energy. That, combined with the government's decision to freeze the carbon tax and to push for the establishment of a bunch of new mines will also likely make it more difficult to reduce GHG emissions.
But it's not hard to figure out why Clark is going this route. The recent provincial election showed that the economy has become the number 1 issue with British Columbians. Clark campaigned successfully as a champion of growing the economy and creating jobs. Environmental issues such as climate change have been elbowed into the background. While they still rank high in importance, they are not the issues that determine who forms government in this province.
While the NDP tears itself apart on whether or not it can support big industrial activities such as LNG plants, fracking and pipelines, Clark can further make economic issues her own and thus ensure she and her party remain in government.
Clark is fond of stressing the need to find ways to say "yes" to big projects rather than simply rejecting them out of hand, as the NDP did in the election campaign when it opposed the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
So look for Clark to fashion policies that are indeed about saying "yes" to a number of projects. I wouldn't be surprised if the B.C. Liberals somehow find a way to throw their support behind the Kinder Morgan pipeline and perhaps, down the road, revisit their decision to not support Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline.
If Kinder Morgan and Enbridge can convincingly show they have addressed concerns about oil spills and clean-up, and that they have the support of more First Nations than not (in other words, not necessarily unanimous support), I suspect Clark will find it easier to say "yes" to one or both of the projects.
Of course, there are potential pratfalls that may await the Clark government as it pushes the economy as its bread and butter issue. Chief among them is if those liquefied natural gas plants don't materialize. LNG Minister Rich Coleman says he's reasonably confident that three will be built, but many analysts will be surprised if there's more than one in the end.
There is a lot of money riding on this all-in gambit by the Clark government. The government's own analysis suggests five LNG plants could contribute between $4 billion and $9 billion a year to government coffers. Even if there's only a single plant, the return could still top more than $1 billion a year - if the Asia market for LNG remains strong, which is by no means a sure thing 10 years from now.
When money like this is dangling in front of the Clark government, don't be surprised if Campbell's emission targets are perhaps changed or delayed through legislation as we draw closer to 2020. The potential financial payoff from LNG and other industries is too huge for a government to pass up, even if it means turning its back on one of the former premier's most cherished policies.
Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
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