Tuesday, November 7, 2017

MLA Ross and Minister Mungall in spirited discussion on LNG in BC

It was a long day in the Legislature for Energy, Mines and Petroleum
Resources  Minister Michelle Mungall, who fielded over three hours of questions
on energy issues in the province

Energy, Mines and Petroleum Minister Michelle Mungall was on the hot seat in the BC legislature on Monday afternoon, with a number of Opposition MLA's directing questions related to energy development in the province.

The session which delivered some three hours of conversation came as part of the discussion on estimates from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum resources, with the Minister and MLA's covering a lot of territory, from carbon emissions, coal and other mining opportunities, job creation and a range of issues related to LNG

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross led the BC Liberals on the theme of
LNG development asking a number of questions of Michelle Mungall,
the NDP Government's Minister for Energy, Mines and Resources Minister 

One of the more persistent of question askers on the afternoon was MLA Ellis Ross from Skeena, who fired off a number of questions related to the level of support that the BC government currently has for LNG development in the province.

I'm trying to gauge where this government is going, because I haven't really seen any substantial change to the budget in terms of LNG. In fact, if anything, I've seen the opposite. I don't understand the comment saying that industry actually proposed or imposed some of its own conditions on its own industry, because I don't think industry proposed the carbon tax hikes. 

I don't think they proposed more studies on their pipelines. But apart from that, you're right. I'm trying to gauge support on where the B.C. government stands in relation to international markets, especially Asia, because that's where everybody's going after. That's where the market is.

Part of his concern related to how the NDP government is handling LNG issues, was the recent cancellation of the BC LNG conference, an initiative started by the BC Liberals under then Premier Clark, which was designed to raise awareness of the opportunities for industry in the province.

The introduction of that topic offered a chance for the Minister to provide her government's thoughts on the tight timeline that led to the cancellation and the Minister's view of how best to accomplish future LNG goals.

What happened with this conference is that following the election and during that transitional period between the minority government under the B.C. Liberals and the current minority government under the NDP, staff did not have direction or authority to move forward with planning the conference other than just this website. 

By the time we came into government, there was just not enough time to actually pull this conference off with any professionalism, as much as we would perhaps try. In terms of sunk costs, yes, there were. There was the Vancouver Convention Centre at $65,000, Vancouver hotels at $81,000 and Pace Communications at $148,000. So the total is $295,000. 

But I think what's very important going forward, and I think the member was going to be coming to this in his questions, is: what's more important? Is it addressing competitiveness, doing what is needed to get to FID, or are photo ops more important? 

I will land on competitiveness and working with industry every time.

Her reply provided the Skeena MLA with the opportunity to share some of his past experience as a member of the Hasila Council and his view of the what the LNG conferences offered for the Northwest and the province.

Yes, I understand how important the LNG opportunity is. I lived it for 13 years. I went to every one of those conferences to be there on a panel or as a speaker. I never went for a photo op. I was actually doing it and proved it on how I can improve lives back in Kitimat — Kitimat townsite and Kitamaat Village. So I know full well how important it is.

Mr. Ross, then noted that in the past there were some questions as to the level of support that the NDP had towards LNG, inquiring if this marks a change in policy for the party now that it's in government.

That provided for a back and forth that gives a glimpse into the very different interpretations of the LNG issue in the province.

E. Ross: And I've heard, I guess, that this government now supports LNG. And I'm assuming that this government will pursue it aggressively with the Asian markets. I don't want to put words in your mouth, Minister — through the Chair, of course — but my question is, are there any proposed trade missions to Asia to pursue Asian markets for LNG? 

Hon. M. Mungall: This government, which has been in office for 110 days, has supported the LNG industry since day one. In terms of going to Asia and having any Asian trade missions, those are currently under discussion. 

E. Ross: From day one. When did day one start? When are you talking about? The support that came from the NDP? Or are you just talking about the support of the NDP government once you got in power? 

Hon. M. Mungall: The member will know that we became government on July 18. So when I talk about this government, that would be the day that it started. In terms of NDP policy on the LNG industry, it is five years old, and it hasn't changed in the last five years.

Of interest for those living in the Skeena riding is a review of the discussion related to the two proposed projects in the Kitimat area, with the Energy Minister offering some praise for the work of Kitimat LNG and LNG Canada along with the Haisla, noting that the potential development in that area offers a chance to help reduce carbon emissions.

I think the member opposite knows, for example, that the work that both Kitimat LNG and LNG Canada have been doing with First Nations is just second to none. I'm continually impressed at the meaningful relationships that they have developed with the Haisla Nation and other First Nations that they have been working with. 

That being said, as we move forward with this industry, we see it as an opportunity. When I go around British Columbia and I talk about the opportunities for us to help reduce carbon emissions, our goal to reduce carbon emissions here at home as we can help jurisdictions like Alberta, maybe Saskatchewan, the Pacific Northwest, California, reduce their emissions…. 

But it goes beyond that. It goes right around the world. Right now, there are 1,600 coal-fired plants being planned in 62 countries, most of them in Asian countries. If we have the opportunity to stop the co-firing and move to natural gas, we're reducing greenhouse gas emissions by half. 

That opportunity — it sounds vaguely familiar to members, because we've actually been saying this for over five years — exists for British Columbia. I hope that we'll be able to realize that opportunity, with projects like LNG Canada, like Kitimat LNG, like Woodfibre and any others that successfully meet the regulatory approvals.

The full exchange between the two makes for an interesting review as to how both the Liberals and NDP plan to approach the LNG issues ahead, you can explore the theme further from the Legislature minutes here, the Ross/Mungall exchange starts at the 17:35 mark.

The best way to review the conversation though is through the Legislature Video archive, which provides a better gauge as to the themes and direction that the conversation took.

You can find that video as part of the Chamber Video Archive for the Monday afternoon session, Mr. Ellis's line of questions starts at 5:35 PM.

For more items of note about the Skeena MLA's work in Victoria see our archive page here, you can also review the efforts of MLA Jennifer Rice from our North Coast archive page here.

A wider overview of items from Victoria can be found on our political portal D'Arcy McGee.

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