Liberals promise strong future with natural gas exports

The B.C. Liberals are hoping that a promise that won't be realized for decades will earn the party another term leading the province.

The government's throne speech, a list of promises and priorities that outline the coming year's agenda, was presented Tuesday afternoon by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon. She announced a new B.C. Prosperity Fund that could accumulate more than $100 billion in revenue from liquified natural gas royalties for the province over the next three decades as the province prepares to sign potentially lucrative deals with Asian markets.

According to the Liberals, LNG revenue would be enough to eliminate the province's $56 billion debt and eliminate the need for a provincial sales tax. Debt servicing costs the province about $2.4 billion annually.

LNG opportunities represent the potential of a $1-trillion boost to the province's gross domestic product over 30 years while creating an estimated 70,000 long-term jobs if all LNG facilities reach full production, according to the throne speech.

The first LNG facility, located in Kitimat, won't be operational for at least two years while five others in northern B.C. won't be online for at least another seven years.

Nanaimo NDP MLA Leonard Krog isn't buying it. He said a single agenda that looks so far down the road doesn't do anything for British Columbians today.

"Even by the standard of throne speeches, which isn't high, it didn't pass the test," said Krog. "There were a number of areas that weren't addressed at all that I find particularly shocking. There wasn't a word about justice and the attorney general's ministry, nothing about crime or delays in the court or the crisis in legal aid. Forestry got a line and a half, the environment wasn't mentioned, zip on tourism, nothing about ferries. These are things that concern my constituents."

While the throne speech sets the government's agenda for the next year should it survive the May 14 election, next week's budget announcement will be more detailed. It will also be closely scrutinized after the Liberals' last budget before an election promised a deficit of $495 million. It turned out to be closer to $1.8 billion.

This time around, the Liberals are promising a balanced budget after several consecutive years in the red.

"I was on the treasury board for that budget and it was at a time when we hadn't hit the bottom yet in a tough economic climate," said Parksville-Qualicum Liberal MLA Ron Cantelon, who announced he won't be running for re-election in May. "The numbers continued to skyrocket in the wrong direction and there was nothing we could do. We're heading into this one with more certainty."

Cantelon added that while looking down the road for future prosperity, the Liberals have continued to fund programs and services important to people in the mid-Island region.

"We've delivered a lot in Nanaimo in terms of seniors housing, the new emergency ward at NRGH after 10 years of nothing happening with the NDP, and the Oceanside Health Centre," he said. "We'll be able to sustain those services with a balanced budget and looking to the future, natural gas, with our Pacific Rim advantage, gives us a great opportunity ... and we'll be able to deliver natural gas right to their port cities."

The NDP is also onside with the future of natural gas exports, but Krog says the Liberals are painting too rosy of a picture.

The B.C. Conservative Party, meanwhile, released its "alternative throne speech" earlier this week.

It said, if elected, the Conservatives would cancel the carbon tax, which it says is unfair to farmers and ranchers, would endorse both the Northern Gateway and Transmountain pipelines, would invest in skills training and apprenticeships for young people, and would provide funding for various components of the province's justice system.

MLAs have been away from Victoria for nine months. The throne speech kicked off a 19-day stint in the legislature that will end in early March as politicians prepare for the upcoming election.

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