In the not too distant future we will be moving to 2nd reading of Bill 23, The Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act. Included within the bill are three profoundly troubling sections.
If these sections pass, powers would be granted to the Minister to single handedly enter into secret agreements with oil and gas companies, without any clear oversight.
These agreements, parts of which can be withheld from the public, would dictate how much—or how little—British Columbians would benefit for our natural gas resources. And given what we’ve seen from this government so far on the natural gas file, it would not be unreasonable for us to be concerned about backroom deals that amount to hand outs of public resources at rock bottom prices.
Here’s what you need to know:
The most concerning points in Bill 23 pertain to changes to the way Royalty Agreements are managed under the Petroleum and Natural Gas Act. Under these changes, the Minister is granted the power to enter into secret agreements with oil and gas companies without the approval of Cabinet.
Once an agreement is signed, the Minister is not required to disclose any sections to the public that could reasonably be withheld under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA).
The question is: who decides? And what oversight exists to make sure our right to know is protected?
If the Minister is able to enter into these agreements without the approval of Cabinet, then does the rest of government even have access to them if they go unpublished?
My concern is that the act doesn’t specify any of this. So presumably right now, a secret agreement could be signed by the Minister without any oversight or approval from Cabinet. The Minister could then potentially keep important sections of that agreement from the public because he or she feels that would be okay under FOIPPA.
Yet, it goes even further.
Those agreements could lock us in for decades. In fact, it’s up to the Minister to determine how long they last, as long as the timeframe does not exceed the maximum timeframe set by Cabinet. The number that has been floating around is 25 years.
Under the agreement, the Minister can also set any terms or conditions he “considers necessary or advisable.” Presumably, these could include conditions the government must meet as well.
For instance, oftentimes agreements include exit clauses and penalties. So if a future government decides that an agreement signed by a current Minister is so egregious that we need to pull out, British Columbians may have to pay the company to do so. The problem, again, is that we may never know how much that would cost until it’s too late.
I am concerned that this is yet another attempt by this government to sell out British Columbians and their natural resources in an absolutely desperate attempt to fulfill their irresponsible election promises which at no time have ever been grounded in reality. The simple fact is – there is a global glut of natural gas in the market, demand is dropping as countries aggressively move to renewables, and BC is just not competitive enough in the LNG industry as we are so far behind other jurisdictions (not to mention that LNG prices have been plummeting and it is no longer economical to ship LNG from BC to Asia unless BC goes so far as to pay a company to do so). And Bill 23 takes the generational sellout, embodied in the Liquefied Natural Gas Income Tax Act, to a whole new level — A multigenerational sellout.
Even if this is not simply a handout for the LNG industry, the fact remains that there are legitimate concerns that the secret deals that this bill would allow could amount to handouts of public resources to companies. British Columbians should be outraged. And I will be vigourously opposing this bill in the weeks ahead.