It’s the dawn of a new economic era in British Columbia, with a strong tinge of green.
The newly aligned BC NDP and BC Greens will be focusing on reining in housing prices and bolstering the technology sector while opposing Kinder Morgan’s oil pipeline expansion. On the resources side, the idea is to reduce the province’s reliance on industries that contribute to climate change and instead place the emphasis on shifting to a sustainable economy.
Here are four economic topics from the pact signed this week by BC NDP Leader John Horgan and BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, with responses from the business community. The four-year agreement to oust the reigning Liberals in favour of an NDP minority government is expected to clear the way for the left-of-centre alliance to hold power in B.C. by late June.
“Make housing more affordable by increasing supply of affordable housing and take action to deal with the speculation and fraud that is driving up prices.”
Cameron Muir, chief economist at the B.C. Real Estate Association, said if the BC Greens got their way, there would be a 30-per-cent tax on foreign home buyers across the province. The BC Liberals led by Premier Christy Clark implemented a 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers in Metro Vancouver in August. No details have been released yet on what the NDP-Greens have in mind now.
“Having a blanket 30-per-cent tax across the entire province is really going to be problematic for many communities that rely on foreign investment and tourism,” Mr. Muir said.
He is awaiting what the new political alliance will say about the fate of incentives under a four-month-old program designed to improve housing affordability for residents saving for down payments for their first purchase.
“And in terms of speculation and fraud, the first step would be to find out what is the extent of speculation and fraud before you devise a policy around that,” Mr. Muir said.
“Establish an innovation commission to support innovation and business development in the technology sector, and appoint an innovation commissioner with a mandate to be an advocate and ambassador on behalf of the B.C. technology sector in Ottawa and abroad.”
Val Litwin, president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, welcomes the spotlight on technology. “The puck is moving in the direction of technology as we continue to diversify our economy,” he said. “Our caution would be whether this presents more red tape for business.”
In February, the provincial Liberal government tabled its fifth consecutive balanced budget, for the 2017-18 fiscal year. From technology to forest products, Mr. Litwin said he hopes programs to be unveiled by the NDP-Greens will keep the public purse in mind. “The B.C. chamber is all about free enterprise and balanced budgets. In theory, any party can bring forward smart policies.”
“Immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the seven-fold increase in tanker traffic on our coast, and the transportation of raw bitumen through our province.”
Tim McMillan, president of the Calgary-based Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the industry can work with any B.C. government – and any opposition party.
He said Kinder Morgan expansion project has gone through a rigorous assessment process, “with the Prime Minister himself saying that this is in the interest of Canadians.”
Mr. McMillan added that the energy sector likes certainty, as is the case with any industry, but democracy has to work.
Natural gas and LNG
“Jobs, climate and a sustainable economy that works for everyone.”
The current carbon tax is $30 a tonne. “Implement an increase of the carbon tax by $5 per tonne, per year, beginning April 1, 2018.”
Patrick Ward, chief executive officer of Painted Pony Energy Ltd., a natural gas producer in northeastern B.C., said that, in four decades in the oil and natural gas business, he has experience working with NDP governments.
“The NDP in British Columbia is about jobs, and good jobs for people,” he said in an interview. “They treated our industry relatively reasonably.” Mr. Horgan is supportive of the B.C. natural gas industry and LNG projects in general, Mr. Ward said. But the Greens are a “bit more of a wild card,” in that they’ve never governed before, he added. The BC Greens have campaigned for a moratorium on fracking and criticized the BC Liberal government’s focus on developing LNG projects.
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