Saturday, April 12, 2014

Austin presses Natural Gas Minister Coleman for details on tax issues and other key items for Northwest

It's as though Skeena MLA Robin Austin has been reading our recaps of the ruminations of Prince Rupert City Council sessions of late.

Last Monday afternoon, Mr. Austin as part of his critics role on Natural Gas Development  took on the main speaking role at a Legislature Committee Session on LNG and many of his questions involved items that the North Coast Municipal leaders have expressed concerns over in recent weeks.

And while the majority of his questions were based on issues of note in Terrace and Kitimat, his line of questioning and the answers from Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman, should be something that Prince Rupert council members may find useful to review.

On the issue of industrial taxation capping and the prospect of LNG taxation for the region:

I'd like to begin by just asking some questions around some comments that have been made publicly around an issue that is very important to those parts of British Columbia where there are proponents, hopefully, going to come to a final investment decision either later this year or early next year. That's to do with the issue of industrial taxation. 

I think in some way, judging from some of the comments that have been made by the minister and by the Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development, it may also be tied in with the whole notion of a regional fund to bring some benefit back to the northwest. My question to the minister is: does the minister believe that there will be, or is potentially going to be, a capping of industrial property taxation in any of the communities in the northwest?

Mr. Coleman offered up the prospect of further discussion with municipalities on the issue, looking to strike a balance for both municipality and industry. Cautioning that in the case of LNG development, the Government won't know what may be required or the impact on each community that will take place, until the final investment decisions are made by the proponents of the development.

The Skeena MLA then turned to issues of housing availability in the Northwest, particularly the current situations in Terrace and Kitimat.

I'd just like to go back specifically to some of the housing issues in the northwest. I know that the minister has spoken with folks in the district of Kitimat, and I know that he's been in touch with people in Terrace. I'm sure that they have told him of the housing crunch that's taking place today. 
What is it that the minister can do in Housing to assist us in the northwest, to help those who have what I would call a normal wage, as opposed to those who are coming from out of town, who are earning these fantastic wages and who very often not only earn fantastic wages but have housing allowances given to them if they're not already put into a camp? This is creating a big problem in the northwest, and I just would like the minister to comment on those things.

Minister Coleman reviewed how the local communities can revisit their community plans to bring in some density and innovation into their community approach.

He also spoke to the issue of the temporary accommodations that were being created in work camps and how communities could learn from the Olympic experience to create supportive housing following large project development.

And with a question that proved timely by the time Thursday rolled around, Mr. Austin spoke to the issue of further consultation with First Nations in the region:

I would just like to move for a moment with regards to the potential of LNG and how it will affect First Nations groups. Of course, it doesn't have to be repeated here that the Haisla community are hugely in support of LNG. I know that Chief Councillor Ellis Ross has been on board with the companies and working with the government since day one, since early days, when the companies were coming to Kitimat and to Haisla territory probably six or seven years ago, long before LNG became something that most of British Columbia was aware of.
My question is broader than that. Aside from those groups, my question to the minister is: in what way are this ministry and this minister working with the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation to discuss LNG? What are the working groups? How many people sit on them? What's the progress of these meetings with the First Nations?

Minister Coleman provided a fairly comprehensive review of the process involved in government and the various challenges that come from trying to bring all sides of the discussion together on subjects of this large an impact.

However, Mr. Coleman did not tip the Government's hand as to the nature of what must have been by Monday, the closing moments of ongoing talks between the Government and First Nations of the North Coast.

Most likely, he would have found it politically helpful to outline the nature of those talks as part of his response to Mr. Austin's line of questions. However, when it came to what would be the the major announcement of Thursday, Mr. Coleman did not let slip any of the details which highlighted the arrangement that the Provincial Government had made with both the Metlakatla and Lax Kwa'laams First Nations.

Over the course of his one hour presentation, Mr. Austin dug deeper into those issues and raised a few other items of note, key among them air shed concerns of the Kitimat region.

All of it as part of the back and forth with the Natural Gas Minister, a session which proved to be a fairly useful bit of background on a number of important questions for the Northwest.

The full review of the Committee session can be found here, both the timely questions of the day and the answers which Minister Coleman provided in return. The video of the Committee Session can be found from the Legislature Archive page for Monday afternoon.

Monday's Committee work was a fairly comprehensive question and answer session and one which provides much information not only for the City councils of Terrace and Kitimat, but one which offers up some background on issues of note to Prince Rupert City Council.

For anyone looking to learn a little bit more on the complicated topics that Council has been working through of late the full session is well worth the hour of time required towards it.

We're not sure that Mr. Austin got many of the answers that he had been hoping for from his inquiries of recent weeks.

Whether they were from the many, many questions he took to the Natural Gas Minister during this week's Committee session, or to the large volume  of questions to other Ministers during House sessions in the weeks that have already passed in this session of the Legislature.

But, for the residents of Terrace, Kitimat and the Nass, at least he's asking questions for them.

Prince Rupert council members may wish to review our Legislature Archives to see which of their concerns are being addressed in Victoria, even if they have been addressed by the member for Skeena.

For the moment, the work of  Mr. Austin,  seems to be about as close as they're going to get to a review  from any regional representatives in Victoria.

No comments:

Post a Comment