Liberals high on natural gas futures

Throne speech outlines 'prosperity fund' powered by LNG royalties

WITH just three months to go until a provincial election, the governing Liberals delivered a throne speech Tuesday that focused on the long-term development of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry to bring cash into government coffers.

The speech, delivered by Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon, focused heavily on plans to establish a B.C. Prosperity Fund powered by royalties from selling LNG to Asian markets.

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Development of the natural gas export industry means seizing "one of the greatest economic opportunities our province has ever seen," the government said, estimating royalty revenues from the industry at $100 billion over the next 30 years, part of $1 trillion in economic activity the government expects to generate from LNG development. The projections are based on five LNG plants being built in B.C. over the next 30 years.

Money from the fund would be used to both pay down the provincial debt and fund social programs, the government said in the throne speech.

But critics pointed to the emphasis on LNG royalty revenue in the speech as a lot of pre-election hot air by the Liberals.

Political pundit and former North Vancouver NDP MLA David Schreck said both the NDP and Liberals support the development of an LNG export industry, but added it won't solve any of the province's problems in the short or medium term.

"The talk is all about what's going to happen in the next 20 years," Schreck said. "We're going to have a $1.5 billion deficit this year because the price of natural gas is lower than was expected.

"That isn't just wishful thinking, that's wishful dreaming."

Schreck said even if the benefits of an LNG industry work out as expected, the province won't see major economic benefits from it for about a decade.

But West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan said it's important for the government to signal support of the industry now. "The opportunity is massive," he said.

Sultan said while the NDP says it supports LNG development, "At the end of the day they don't sound very enthusiastic about natural resource development of any sort."

Both Sultan and Schreck said balancing B.C.'s budget - which comes down next week - will be a challenge over the short term. "We're on short rations as they say in the navy," said Sultan.

"I keep joking with my NDP friends that I'm shopping for an appropriate sympathy card," said Schreck of the possibility of that party forming government after the election. "It's not going to be fun managing these challenges."

jseyd@nsnews.com

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