BC Views: Premier ponders black ink, oil

Premier Christy Clark talks about oil pipelines and balancing the budget in a year-end interview

Premier Christy Clark at her B.C. legislature office Dec. 11.

VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark has completed the traditional round of year-end interviews with legislative press gallery reporters. Here are excerpts from my discussion with her, dealing with the Enbridge oil pipeline proposal and the balanced budget her government has promised to present in February.

TF: On the Enbridge proposal, are you getting the answers you want on safety?

PCC: No, we’re not. We’ve set out our position. The five conditions need to be met, period.

[B.C.’s conditions are “world-class” land and marine spill prevention and response, meeting legal obligations for aboriginal consultation, passing federal-provincial environmental assessment and a “fair share” of financial benefits.]

PCC: We need the oilpatch producers, the Alberta government and the federal government to come to the table.

We’ve been cross-examining Enbridge. We have not been getting any of the answers that we hoped to get. We haven’t gained a lot of comfort from that process. And none of the other conditions are even close to being met.

We are doing our own study of marine traffic. We want to understand the total number of ships that are out there plying our coast right now. Because all of them have fuel in them, and some are cargo ships that are big enough to have enough [bunker] fuel as a mini-tanker would.

Part of this is trying to understand where our level of Coast Guard protection needs to be today, in order to protect us should there be a spill from the existing traffic.

TF: Balancing the budget: the finance ministry’s current projections call for an upturn in natural gas royalties in the coming year. With the current glut of gas, isn’t that kind of far-fetched?

PCC: It is going to be difficult to present a balanced budget, but I think, because we’re going to build in some [forecast] allowance, as we always do, and because we’re going to be completely transparent about the assumptions that have led us there, and because we aren’t going to fiddle with any of the assumptions that we receive from the experts in the Ministry of Finance, it’s going to be quite clear that we have done it. We have come by a balanced budget honestly.

So when it comes to natural gas, you know that the assumption we use in the budget is based on a fairly complex formula that the Ministry of Finance has relied on for probably a decade now. We don’t fiddle with that.

There are those who would say we should artificially lower the [revenue projection] number that we use. But if you artificially lower it, what’s to stand in the way of artificially raising it? You either accept the advice of your experts or you don’t. And they’re the experts, not the politicians.

TF: Right now the province has a deficit gap of more than a billion dollars. Can that be closed without significant spending cuts, or tax increases, or both?

PCC: You will see when we get to the budget. And it will be absolutely transparent how we got there. [Laughs] Nice try.

TF: If the B.C. Liberals form a government in May, will the election date be changed so we don’t have to have this discussion about questionable spring election budgets?

PCC: It’s not part of the plan today, but I’m sure it’s a discussion we’ll have in the next four years. I know that people have talked about it. I’m open to it. I’m not wedded to this particular date.

Next week I’ll have highlights from my year-end interview with NDP leader Adrian Dix.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

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