Why are we having this election in the middle of a health and economic emergency? That question won’t go away for NDP leader John Horgan, as he was forced again in the B.C. election campaign’s second leader debate to justify why he called it a year early.
In one of several sharp exchanges with B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau on radio station CKNW Oct. 15, Horgan said it was the Greens’ lack of support for his plan to import U.S. electricity that persuaded him to break his written agreement on the minority government formed in 2017. Horgan asked Furstenau if she also opposes sending out $1,000 payments to most B.C. families, like she opposed cheaper energy from California.
Furstenau, who was hit with the election call a week into her leadership, has shown strongly in two debates despite having a hastily assembled platform and slate of candidates. That platform includes a boost for school district funding to get them through a period of falling enrolment and a shift to online and hybrid schooling in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of Horgan sending out payments to families earning up to $175,000, the $1.4 billion should be invested in education, Furstenau said. That plan is outlined in the Green platform released this week, centred on stable funding rather than per-pupil grants to districts that are struggling to serve students and laying off teachers.
As for imported U.S. power, she said the proposed imports are not guaranteed to be clean, and the NDP would tie B.C. to the American energy market while turning away from small renewable power that helps remote and Indigenous communities. Horgan’s government had to withdraw its power import legislation, after the three B.C. Green MLAs joined Indigenous leaders in opposing it.
The biggest rift between the Greens and NDP was over Horgan’s surprise plan to sweeten the financial pot for LNG Canada, a consortium of Shell, Petronas and other petroleum giants building an LNG plant and pipeline across northern B.C. to Kitimat. Horgan insists he can meet his government’s downgraded greenhouse gas emission targets, even with liquefied natural gas extraction and transport to Asia.
Furstenau said Horgan’s NDP provided $6 billion in subsidies to LNG Canada, after repealing an “LNG income tax” that was added by former premier Christy Clark in an effort to gain a windfall for B.C. natural gas exports.
“The $6 billion was not a subsidy, it was a deferral,” Horgan replied.
That’s not what the NDP government said in March 2018 when the new incentives for LNG Canada were revealed. Horgan said then his revised tax and gas royalty regime would generate $22 billion over 40 years, down from a previous estimate of $28 billion that LNG Canada partners saw as too high.
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visited Terrace and Kitimat Oct. 14, promising to get a second LNG export project off the ground. The completion of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline from the Peace River region to the North Coast continues to be confronted by protests, although the elected first nation councils along the route all approve and benefit from it.
Furstenau pressed Wilkinson on the consequences of his plan to eliminate provincial sales tax completely for a year, and bring it back at a reduced rate at a cost of more than $10 billion to the province’s revenues. A high school student submitted a similar question to the debate, asking how much debt all leaders were willing to pass on to the next generation.