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Bill 6 — LNG Income Tax Act: A Generational Sellout

Today in the legislature I rose to speak strongly against Bill 6 — Liquefied Natural Gas Income Tax Act. In a desperate attempt to fulfill outrageous election promises, the BC Government does what it can to give away our natural resources with little, if any, hope of receiving LNG tax revenue for many, many years to come. Below is the text of my speech.


Second Reading Speech

Bill 6 — Liquefied Natural Gas Income Tax Act


In an election where the government was set to fail, a Hail Mary pass was thrown. That pass was the promise of an LNG windfall. It was packaged in a message of hope so compelling it couldn’t be ignored: 100,000 jobs, $1 trillion to the GDP, a 100 billion dollar prosperity fund, the elimination of our provincial debt, thriving schools and hospitals and, most of all, the end of the provincial sales tax.

As we all know, that pass was caught, and we now have a government that is desperate to deliver on its irresponsible political posturing. What we didn’t know until recently was just how far the government was willing to go to try and materialize its LNG pipedream. We had no idea how desperate the government was. We had no idea how costly it would be to give away our natural resources. Now we do, as sadly, those costs are coming to light.

We’re told we are going to “re-engineer B.C.’s education and apprenticeship systems.” You can’t make this step up. Orwellian messaging and actions that we’ve come to expect from the Harper Tories are now gushing forth from this government’s propaganda machine on a daily basis.

We’re being told that we need to dismantle our leadership in climate policy. In fact, perhaps the most ironic aspect of all of this is that those very same civil servants who put together B.C.’s revenue-neutral carbon tax legislation, a piece of legislation praised around the world, have been given the unenviable task of putting together the present tax legislation, which can only be regarded as a generational sellout.

Just today the government puts our Triple-A credit rating at risk in order to subsidize the LNG industry on the back of taxpayers and B.C. Hydro ratepayers.

Let me be very clear. British Columbia has a rich history of natural gas development. There was once a time when B.C. coffers were filled with royalties from this sector, but markets have changed. The revolution in horizontal fracking technology has created a glut of natural gas in the marketplace. Today’s Henry Hub spot price for natural gas is just $3.60 per million Btu. That makes it uneconomical to extract natural gas from the dry-gas fields in the Horn River shales near Fort Nelson, B.C., which require a North American natural gas spot price of around $5 per million Btu to be economical. Sadly, it’s pretty quiet around Fort Nelson right now.

The only reason we are still maintaining a vibrant sector in the Montney Formation around Fort St. John is because of the value in the liquids — not the gas, which in many cases, I’m told, is simply pumped right back into the ground and capped, as there’s no market for it. These so-called condensates are important for mixing with bitumen in order to reduce its viscosity and, hence, allow diluted bitumen to flow in pipes.

Hon. Speaker, I understand why the government wants to search for a market for B.C. gas. There isn’t one in North America, but let’s take a look at this in more detail, at precisely what the government is doing.

On October 29, 2012, the Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas made a presentation entitled B.C.’s Energy Future at the annual B.C. clean energy conference. The deputy minister outlined B.C.’s plan and its LNG price projections from 2012 well into the future.

Domestic prices were projected to increase linearly from the $3 per million Btu range to about $7.50 per million Btu by the year 2035. Asian import prices for LNG were also projected to increase from about $13 per million Btu in 2013 to about $17 per million Btu in 2035. In essence, the government was predicting a sustained and constant $10 per million Btu spread in the price of domestic versus Asian prices for natural gas.

That $10 per million Btu spread is critical. It’s projected to cost about $6 to $8 per million Btu to get gas to Asia. If we drop much below that $10 spread, it’s not going to be economical for an LNG industry to get going in British Columbia.

For almost two years I have been saying the same thing, and consistently so. Canada has less than 1 percent of the world’s proven natural gas reserves. Russia has about 20 times as much natural gas as all of Canada combined — not only just B.C., but all of Canada. They recently signed 30-year agreements to provide natural gas to China.  Their most recent agreements came in at the $9 to $10 per million Btu mark. That’s equivalent to a $5 to $6 spread from the Henry Hub price.

Australia has similar-sized shale gas reserves as Canada and is much farther ahead in the development of its LNG industry. The United States has more than twice the shale gas reserves as Canada, and the U.S. government recently decided to allow natural gas exports. The U.S. already has some of the necessary infrastructure in place on their coastline to facilitate a relatively quick development of an LNG export industry. China could soon be well positioned to take advantage of its own natural gas reserves, which are three times those of Canada.

The reality is that we are simply not competitive at this time. That doesn’t mean we won’t be at some point in the future. Let the market decide when that will be. The role of government is to ensure that externalities are internalized so that certainty exists for industry moving forward.

In this case, we are doing the exact opposite. What we are doing is externalizing internalities on the taxpayer and future generations. Government has the audacity, the arrogance, the hubris to call it itself “business friendly”.

Rather than acting like a pack of cheerleaders, the members opposite should be posing the difficult questions and proposing innovative solutions to create a diversified, sustainable 21st century economy. There is a disappointing lack of critical analysis on the benches across from me. Perhaps those members who cheer the loudest are trying to win favour with the Premier so that they might climb into the inner chamber of the LNG house of cards.

Six years ago our province took a bold step forward. Together, government, industry leaders and academics, as well as First Nations, came together to map out a new path for our province, one predicated on the notion that strong economic growth can and must go in hand with a sustainable environment. We accepted the undeniable truth that as long as we fail to address global warming, we are failing future generations, for we will be burdening them with the economic, social and environmental costs of our actions today.

Since we took that bold step in 2008 we have seen our economy outperform the Canadian average. We have seen up-and-coming industries like the technology sector become the second-largest contributor to private sector growth, supplying 84,000 jobs for British Columbians and revenues of $18 billion a year. We’ve seen mining output and exports double in the last ten years, and we’ve seen more than $18 billion added to our provincial GDP.

We did all this while reducing our carbon emissions by over 4 percent from 2007 to 2012. In fact, published studies have clearly concluded that the 2008 and subsequent climate policies have successfully reduced carbon emissions while still supporting economic growth.

In 2008 our province boldly strolled down a path that was grounded in real leadership and prosperous economic growth. That vision and those policies are being dismantled with this legislation that is now before the House. The fact is that this whole situation comes down to an absence of real leadership.

All of us in this room were elected to lead, yet real leadership demands of us the integrity to acknowledge what we all know: this bill was developed in the context of unspoken yet profound constraints that were imposed by overhyped election promises. In catching their Hail Mary pass, the B.C. Liberal government gave itself the impossible task of delivering on a promise that was never grounded in any realistic expectations or in sound economics.

How can a government ever deliver on the LNG windfall when the economics simply are not there? The answer, of course, is that they can’t. Instead, the government is selling out our future generation with bills like this one, in an effort to appease public expectations. They know, as we all do, that they cannot walk into the next election without having landed at least one LNG plant. Instead of coming clean and being accountable for their actions, the Liberal government is tabling bills like this one, which amounts to nothing more than a generational sellout.

Mark my words, when the B.C. Liberals look back, in 2016, they’ll tell future voters that the economics have changed, that their promises were reasonable until the LNG bubble burst. They will argue in defense that B.C. has one or two extremely small LNG plants in the works, and dozens of companies are still interested, and there will be hundreds of thousands of jobs, and there will be a trillion dollar hit to the GDP when this prosperity is realized “once you elect us back in.”

They will say: “It wasn’t our fault.” They will proclaim that other market measures came to be, to make LNG not a reality in time for this election. But as I’ve pointed out — and I have done so for the last two years — the economics wasn’t there before, it isn’t there now, and it won’t be there for a few years to come, and this hyperbole does not serve the interests of British Columbians at all.

The truth, of course, is that we have known all along that the economics would change, yet because our government is unwilling to show leadership and admit this, the challenge of delivering on their unfounded promise and the constraints that come with having to at least deliver something was passed on to our poor civil servants, who I believe have done their best with a near impossible task.

Indeed, much of the structure of this legislation is quite brilliant. Many of the technical details have been well-thought-out, and I must actually commend the civil servants who’ve drafted the legislation for doing a very fine job in light of the impossible situation in which they were placed.

That being said, the major problems with this bill aren’t in what the civil servants have done with it; they’re in the politics that led to it, the politics that continue and the politics that will take us into the 2017 election.

We cannot consider the LNG tax regime in isolation. It must be considered in the context of Bill 2, the Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act. That is because together, Bills 2 and 6 help form an economic playing field for LNG companies. While Bill 6 enshrines the tax regime by which B.C.’s revenue sources are determined, Bill 2 enshrines the loopholes through which companies will jump to avoid ever having to cover the full economic costs of their carbon emissions. We cannot ignore that fact in this debate.

There are clear economic costs that come with not addressing global warming, and they are the untold debt that is conveniently, for our government, left out of our accounting books. But those costs will indeed be borne by future generations if those of us here today fail to act in a responsible manner.

Here’s just one example. As the former governor of the Bank of Canada and now governor of Bank of England said just over two weeks ago, “The vast majority of oil and gas reserves are unburnable,” if we wish to avoid the most profound consequences of global warming. He and many others have pointed out evaluations of major energy companies focused only on fossil fuels are potentially overinflated since their unburnable reserves should be viewed as stranded assets.

Yet in B.C. what do we do? We chase a falling market, through mortgaging our future and incurring ever-increasing amounts of generational debt.

I’ve said before that the economics aren’t there and have never been there. For an LNG industry to thrive in B.C. at this time, the truth of this statement and of the government’s LNG hype is perhaps best illustrated with the proposed LNG tax rate.

With the introduction of this bill, we saw the government cut this rate from 7 percent to 3½ percent, throwing out vague statements like: “Well, market conditions have changed since we brought it in.” In doing so, they’ve cut the projected revenue that British Columbians will receive from the LNG income tax by nearly half — if they receive anything, ever, at all.

Why is the government shifting from 7 percent to 3½ percent now? According to the government, it’s because LNG economics have changed. Among other things, they cite an increasing global LNG supply due to competition and a decrease in LNG demand — since China now has a natural gas supply agreement with Russia, and Japan is considering restarting its nuclear power program.

I was absolutely dumbfounded when I read this. I don’t know what the government’s been up to, but I’ve been saying the same thing for two years. Frankly, it’s irresponsible for the government to be saying this now. I wonder where they’ve been for the last two years — including reading a recent Peters and Co. report that estimates that while LNG demand will increase to more than 500 million tonnes per annum by 2030, LNG supply will reach 800 million tonnes per annum by that time.

Why should we be surprised at this? When we witness Russia sign a $400 billion, 30-year agreement with China, we should not be surprised. When we see the U.S. Gulf Coast become the most efficient place in America to build LNG plants and Japan to sign long-term contracts with U.S. suppliers at rates far below expectations in B.C., we should not be surprised. The supply gap is too narrow, and Russia, the United States, Australia, Malaysia and Qatar are places that already have exports and export industries. They’ll be able to fill the gap long before we can even get gas out of the ground and into ships.

None of this is new. Where has the government been for the last two years as everybody in the energy industry, academics and universities and at least one politician in this building have realized all along that this is nothing but a pipedream and B.C. has become the laughingstock of those in the Alberta oil and gas industry because of its approach in this regard? I say that after talking to people from within that industry.

Why is the government continuing to claim that LNG economics are the reason for its sudden decision to cut the proposed LNG income tax rate in half? If this was indeed a surprise for government, then where was it getting its data from before?

I find it concerning that it appears that the government is either only analyzing these strengths now, years after the fact, or that they’ve known about these trends for years, as I and many others have, including those in the Alberta oil and gas industry, which I would be most delighted to trot out in front of the Legislature here, given permission, to say exactly the same thing that I have been saying and this irresponsible government has ignored for the last two years.

Instead, they’ve chosen to pull the wool over British Columbians’ eyes about why they’re changing the rate now. Irresponsible, shameful, and not what we in British Columbia expect from a government that’s supposed to be truthful to the people of British Columbia.

Here’s another problem. The government has said over and over that it was necessary to lower the LNG income tax in order to keep B.C. competitive. Surely in arriving at that determination, the government would have completed economic projections, both in terms of revenue to the province and in terms of costs to the companies for the various tax levels they considered. Yet I haven’t seen any of these. I’m sure that the members beside me haven’t seen any of these.

What precisely is the government making their decisions on? Where are the revenue projections that lead the government to conclude that the lower tax rate would still provide British Columbians with a fair return on their resources? Is it because Shell told them so? Is it because Buddy down the street in the coffee house told them so? Not the oil and gas reps that I’ve talked to. They certainly don’t know where that’s coming from.

Has government made these projections? If so, where are they? If not, then why not? Without conducting realistic revenue projections, how can the government or we as members of this Legislature properly evaluate the validity of this tax regime? The reality is we can’t, and frankly, it’s irresponsible to proceed without this information.

Furthermore, because we don’t have this information, we also don’t have any realistic projections of how long it will take companies to pay off their net operating loss account and capital investment account balances. We therefore have no basis to determine how long the 1.5 percent tax rate will apply for or when the 3.5 percent tax rate will even ever kick in. These are impacts that we need to know if the government is going to make policy decisions grounded in evidence and analysis.

What about the corporate income tax rate? Of course, this isn’t the only tax cut proposed in this legislation. I’m referring here to the natural gas credit towards the B.C. corporate income tax, and under this legislation LNG companies will receive a tax credit equal to a half percent of the cost of natural gas owned by the LNG taxpayer at the LNG facility inlet, which can then be used to cut their B.C. corporate income tax rate from 11 percent to 8 percent.

I have several concerns about this. First, of course, is back to my previous point. We’ve been given no projections of the impact of this tax break. We have no idea what it will have on revenue, and, presumably, of course, the purpose of this tax break is to attract LNG companies to set up headquarters here in B.C. Yet, again, we already have some of the lowest corporate tax rates in Canada, and Canada has some of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world, so presumably, there must be some reason for this. Presumably, we already have competitive rates.

What’s being added by this? Why is the government doing this? Where are the revenue projections? Are there reliable projections on the impact that this will have? Will companies actually relocate because of this? And if so, what impact will that have on our revenue projections? Are these impacts worth the race to the bottom on corporate income taxes that we are engaging in with other jurisdictions that are also competing for those same headquarters?

Again, I find it concerning that I have not seen any analysis from the government as to the projected impacts of this reduction. To be perfectly blunt, I get the sense that the government is just making it up as they go along.

Meanwhile, this corporate tax break also begs the question: why is the government favouring one industry over others? This tax break for LNG industry puts the government’s LNG ambitions ahead of such things as film, tourism, high-tech, forestry, fishing and many other industries which are already here now. It puts a hypothetical fossil fuel industry, with its future stranded assets, ahead of existing 21st-century industries that are already employing many, many more British Columbians and that provide realistic hope for future growth.

Are we so desperate to attract LNG producers that we are willing to leave industries that are already thriving in our province? That already show promise for future prosperity? Are we just going to just throw them by the wayside? If we want to support economic growth through tax policy, why not instead explore measures of further growing these existing industries that have shown success in our province?

Let’s build on our demonstrated strengths and the jobs they provide for British Columbians, not a pipedream that clearly won’t do much for the B.C. economy for several decades to come.

Of course, leaving aside the values question, of whether we should be sacrificing so much to try to materialize an LNG industry, all of these issues ultimately come down to the basic question. Where is that line at which B.C. actually becomes competitive with other jurisdictions, and have we actually hit that line?

Will these tax cuts actually make us that much more competitive to the point that LNG companies would have walked away without them but will now be drawn to B.C. with them? Without the full information, it’s hard to answer these questions, since there is much more to the calculation than simply respective tax rates.

Let me offer one specific example. Regulatory filings show that both the Pacific NorthWest LNG and LNG Canada projects would each likely cost up to $15 billion to build, which would translate roughly to about $1,200 per metric tonne capacity. In contrast, the Cameron LNG project on the U.S. Gulf Coast could take advantage of an existing import facility and would only cost about $7 billion to complete, which is roughly equivalent to $600 per metric tonne capacity.

Several Asian buyers, including Japan, which recently signed contracts, South Korea, India and Indonesia have acknowledged that because of this, the U.S. is likely the most efficient place in North America to build LNG export facilities and have already committed to long-term contracts with the U.S. as a consequence, starting in 2016.

The reality is that the widening of the Isthmus of Panama should open sometime at the end of next year, allowing bigger ships to come into the Gulf ports to pick up LNG at a cheaper price.

Unfortunately, we have no actual revenue projections, again, that we can use as a basis for evaluating whether the tax cuts we are offering are necessary to close the competitive gap with jurisdictions like the U.S that have these added advantages. Instead, we’re being asked, simply based on trust, to take the government at its word that they got it right.

Based on what has become a train wreck of unfulfilled promises, it’s hard for me to do so. Without revenue projections, we cannot make an informed decision on the values question of whether we should be making these sacrifices in the hope that an LNG industry will somehow materialize.

Here’s one of the most egregious aspects of this bill. We’re actually paying firms to clean up their own mess, and my concerns don’t end there, for example. Not only does this legislation lay out a path to give away our natural resources through a series of tax cuts and breaks, it also goes so far as to provide a tax credit to companies when they finally clean up their mess, a mess they made over the course of their operations.

Under this legislation a company would receive a 5 percent tax break relating to the costs of reclamation, remediation and restoration of an LNG facility site. I mean, it should go without saying that LNG companies have a responsibility to restore, reclaim and remediate their sites. This should be a cost of doing business, not something that a company gets a pat on the back for and a cheque in their pocket for doing sometime hypothetically down the road.

I find it, again, deeply concerning that the government is passing some of these costs on to British Columbians through this tax credit. It’s the opposite of polluter pays. It’s polluter gets paid.

If we are so concerned that these companies are going to pack up and leave B.C. with a hazardous mess to clean up, why don’t we mandate that these costs be covered as upfront criteria for doing business in B.C.?

As a final point, I’m concerned about an inconsistency in this bill with respect to taxing emissions reductions initiative from Bill 2. Under Bill 2, as an initiative to reduce their emission intensity, the government is proposing to tax LNG companies for not meeting the emissions intensity benchmark of 0.16 per metric tonnes of carbon dioxide–equivalent per tonne of LNG produced. Mind you, that’s only on the downstream component.

Those taxes count as lost revenue. On the other hand, LNG producers would also be empowered to sell emissions credits that they receive for reducing their emissions below the 0.16 benchmark. This doesn’t make any sense. On the face of it might. It might seem like a good way to motivate firms to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions intensity. However, there’s a troubling inconsistency in how this policy is applied.

Under Bill 6, producers can count the costs of buying emissions credits as lost revenue and, hence, reduce their LNG income tax amount. However, when producers make revenue from selling the credits they receive for reducing their emissions intensity below 0.16 — that benchmark — that revenue is exempt from taxation. In other words, the government is letting the industry have its cake and eat it too, and it’s doing so on the backs of British Columbian taxpayers — who buy the ingredients, prepare the cake and pass it along to the industry.

In conclusion, I cannot help wondering why we aren’t talking — instead of about a regressive tax regime that essentially gives British Columbia’s assets for nothing to companies afar and puts the debt on future generations — about and supporting a diversified 21st-century sustainable economy. We could be debating legislation that would support a range of industries that provide local, well-paying and sustainable employment opportunities over the long term instead of tying our job and our children’s jobs to the boom and bust cycle of fossil fuel industries.

We should instead be looking at the long-term growth in new and up-and-coming industries. Rather than relying on a single industry in one part of the province to provide prosperity — hopeful prosperity, dreamful prosperity — for British Columbia’s future, we could show real leadership and take steps today to develop the diversity of opportunities that exist across the province and to prepare our youth for employment in industries that are already characterized by high growth — such as the clean and high-tech sectors, the film sector, the tourism sector, the forestry sector, the fishing sector. And I could go on and on.

This vision certainly includes innovation in how we develop and use our natural resources, but not in a bubble. Rather, it’s as part of a diversified and sustainable economy. It goes without saying that we must enact policies to ensure that British Columbians benefit from resource extraction when and where that extraction is appropriate.

But this tax regime instead lays out a means to give away our province’s resources in order to land an irresponsible, political promise filled with hyperbole, lacking of substance and void of information and detail.

As we continue to debate the role LNG might play in our economy, let us not forget the real opportunities, the real economic opportunities, of the future and that they lie in fostering long-term sustainable growth in our economy, growth that transitions us to a low-carbon economy. Let’s take that challenge seriously and develop a 21st-century economy for British Columbia. That economy may indeed have a place for a revitalized gas industry in B.C.

If I can leave one message with government, ultimately, it is this. That revitalized gas industry should arise if the market determines it is time for it to do so, not because the government hopes it is time for it to do so. That is a critical aspect of the flaw of this piece of legislation. The government is interfering with the market.

The government has decided that it knows best, that the market for LNG is here and now and is now trying to interfere with the market. Instead of doing what it should do, what it’s tasked to do, which is to internalize externalities and ensure that the market is regulated, they are externalizing internalities and putting those and that burden on the present generation and tomorrow’s generation as well.

We will look back in British Columbia a few years hence and realize that this is a defining time in our province — a province that used to be known as an innovative leader in the technology of today and tomorrow.

Instead, what we have done is we’ve taken a card from the regressive approach of Harper Tory politics, which has a base in the Alberta oil sands industry: “Come hell or high water, get the resource out of the ground and sell it afar. Throw a party today with the resources that we can extract and the money we can take from today’s resource-selling. Let’s not worry about tomorrow.”

Let’s look at places around the world — and the prosperity funds they have — and ask the question: “What is the prosperity fund that Canada has from all of the extraction of its oil and gas wealth over many, many decades?”

The answer is very simple: it is a big fat goose egg. British Columbia, through this legislation, has aligned itself with the federal government, and we, too, in British Columbia can expect this same big fat goose egg as a legacy for the irresponsible tax regime, the irresponsible policies and the irresponsible government we have here trying to force this LNG on a market that’s not ready for it.

 

5 Comments

  1. Mark Fisher-
    November 9, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Also wondering the governments response.???

  2. Chase-
    November 7, 2014 at 9:38 am

    What was the government’s response to your speach?

  3. Hugh-
    November 6, 2014 at 10:10 am

    “Under Bill 6, producers can count the costs of buying emissions credits as lost revenue and, hence, reduce their LNG income tax amount. However, when producers make revenue from selling the credits they receive for reducing their emissions intensity below 0.16 — that benchmark — that revenue is exempt from taxation.”

    So the LNG producer can earn revenue by selling credits if they emit below the 0.16 limit? Would these credits then be purchased by the BC public sector as carbon offsets?

  4. Maureen Nicholson-
    November 5, 2014 at 6:11 am

    This figure needs to be corrected:

    $100,000 prosperity fund,

    • November 5, 2014 at 7:26 am

      Thanks for catching the important typo.its corrected now.