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On the BC Liberal request to debate a matter of urgent public importance

Right after question period on Thursday of this week, the MLA for Abbotsford West (and the former House Leader when the BC Liberals were in Government) rose, pursuant to Standing Order 35, to seek leave from the Speaker to “make a motion for the adjournment of the House … for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance … “.

In his statement, the MLA for Abbotsford West argued that it was urgent to discuss:

the necessity, advisability, and consequences of referring to the Court of Appeal the question of British Columbia’s ability to regulate or limit the transportation of energy products on federally approved and regulated pipelines and rail lines“.

During the 40th Parliament (prior to the May 2017 election) I stood three times pursuant to Standing Order 35 seeking to debate a matter of urgent public importance (all of them occurred in 2015).

The first sought a debate on whether or not in light of a preponderance of recent weather extremes, and in the lead up to an upcoming United Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Paris,  we, as legislators, were acting with sufficient urgency and demonstrating the appropriate leadership on preparing for and mitigating the escalating impacts of climate change in British Columbia.

The second sought a debate on the recent failure of the contaminated soil site stormwater containment and clarification system at the South Island Aggregates — Cobble Hill Holdings — South Island Resource Management operations near Shawnigan Lake.

The third sought a debate on an economic backup plan for British Columbia given the  collapse of this government’s strategy on LNG and the urgent need to transition to a low-carbon economy.

In all cases the Government House Leader (now the MLA for Abbotsford West) spoke against the need for such debates. As he pointed out,

“It is the urgency of debate, not the urgency of the matter itself”

that is important.

Both the Government House Leader (Mike Farnworth) and I spoke against the need for the present emergency debate. The reason of course is that the issue had been extensively canvassed in Question Period and Budget Estimate debates. Below I reproduce the video and text of my rationale.


Video of my remarks



Text of my remarks


A. Weaver: I rise to speak to the application for Standing Order 35. We were informed of this about a minute ago when this was put on our desk, so we’ve had a quick caucus meeting here.

I will suggest that I do have a lot of sympathy for the arguments brought forward by the Government House Leader.

I will also remind you of precedent. In the previous government, I rose pursuant to Standing Order 35 and I pointed out that it was critical at that juncture for the House here to have a debate on the issue of climate change in the lead-up to the Paris agreement, because government was deliberating on what it was going to do there. And both sides of the House, at that time, suggested that the urgency test had not been met.

I have been talking about the issue of Kinder Morgan for five, six years now. I would argue that the urgency test is not met either, in light of the fact that I listened to estimates, in light of the fact that I’ve been here in this chamber for the last number of weeks and there has been time after time after time where this has been debated. Some of the motions in private members’ time, some of the statements, are on this topic. We’ve had ample opportunity to discuss this.

Again, I come back to the precedent. I come back to the application of Standing Order 35 in the last parliament, when I rose precisely on an issue similar to this and the Speaker at the time ruled that it was not a matter of urgency. I would argue that the parallels are very similar. The argument at the time was that the issue of climate challenge had been debated in question period, it had been debated in estimates, and it had been debated in statements on Monday morning.

The analogy is direct. So our advice, hon. Speaker, as you make your decision, is that we find it difficult to see how this test of urgency is met.

Question Period: More on the dodgy economic case for the Trans Mountain pipeline

Today in the legislature I had the opportunity to rise once more in Question Period to question government further about the dubious economic justifications underpinning Alberta and Federal rhetoric supporting the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Below I reproduce the video and text of my exchange with the Minister of the Environment.


Video of Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: Yesterday, I asked the government whether they share the concerns being raised by many experts about the economics of the Trans Mountain pipeline. I’d like to pick up on that here.

Earlier this year and for the very first time, a new class of tanker — a very large crude carrier, or VLCC — left the newly refurbished Louisiana Offshore Oil Port destined for Asia. These tankers can load over two million barrels of oil, and the LOOP facility can fill them at a whopping rate of 100,000 barrels an hour.

The Aframax-class tankers that would leave the terminus at the end of the Trans Mountain pipeline can only take 555,000 barrels of diluted bitumen out of Burrard Inlet. That means that any Asian buyer would need to contract four Aframax tankers from the Trans Mountain terminus versus only one VLCC from the LOOP facility.

Based on this obvious economic reality that any Asian buyers would be serviced by the VLCCs out of the U.S. and not out of the terminus of Trans Mountain, my question is this, to the either the Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance or the Premier, if he’s here: is her government or his government and her ministry or the Premier’s office taking a hard look at the financial case for the Kinder Morgan pipeline?


Answer


Hon. G. Heyman: Thank you to the Leader of the Third Party for the question. I and other members of the government are certainly aware of the controversy around the economics, the different studies, the changes in conditions and different alternatives. I thank the Leader of the Third Party for reading these into the record.

But with respect to the Leader of the Third Party, it is the job of proponents to determine the economics. It is the job of other governments backing the project to determine the merits of the economics. I think all Canadian taxpayers would want other governments to take a long, hard look at the economics of a project in which they’re considering investing billions of dollars.

But our job, as the government of British Columbia, is to look at the interests of our environment and our economy, and that’s what we’re doing. That’s why we are considering every measure, every inch of our constitutional jurisdiction — to protect against a catastrophe that’s possible, that could have significant and awful economic interests on British Columbia. Tourism alone — 19,000 tourism businesses in British Columbia, employing 133,000 people in every corner of this province, in every constituency represented by members in this chamber.

It’s our duty, it’s our responsibility, to look out for those people. It’s not our responsibility to ignore them because a large project comes along. Our job is to ensure that if there are large projects, they don’t impact and take away the livelihood of those people or the $17 billion in revenue that the tourism industry generates every year in British Columbia.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.


Supplementary Question


A. Weaver: I do thank the minister for his answer and his commitment to protecting British Columbia. But I respectfully disagree, because I believe it is the government’s responsibility to inform British Columbians about the economics of this proposal.

Why? Because the previous government claimed that the economic benefits for British Columbia were very large and, in fact, claimed that the government’s fifth condition was apparently met. Now unfortunately, the fifth condition was based on assertions that were put towards the 2012 National Energy Board in the submission. It’s now six years old, and many of the fundamental assumptions of that submission, of that economic case, on which the government claimed its fifth condition was met, are no longer valid.

Keystone XL and line 3 have been approved. That means that we have more than a million barrels a day of export capacity, which was unaccounted for. We’ve got North America now having the ability to ship through VCCs — that was never able. And we know that you can’t get bigger ships in Burrard Inlet. This government, I would argue, has a responsibility to review those numbers, so that British Columbians are given correct, accurate and up-to-date information about the economics of this project.

My question, Hon. Speaker, is to the Minister of Environment — through you and then through the Minister of Finance, who still has laryngitis. The previous provincial government made claims about the economic benefits to B.C. from this pipeline, that have been cast into serious doubt. Why isn’t this government examining the economic case more closely?


Answer


Hon. G. Heyman: Again, I thank the Leader of The Third Party. As he respectfully disagrees with me about the role of our government in this regard, I respectfully assert again to him that this is not a project that this government thinks is good for British Columbia. We’ve made that clear. We think the risk is so great, and far outweighs the reward.

What we are doing is ensuring that within our jurisdiction, within our ability to regulate and place conditions on a project that is federally decided upon — subject to an appeal to the federal court — we ensure that conditions and regulations are in place to protect our economy.

It’s important up and down our coast. We have a fisheries and seafood industry that contributes more than $660 million every year to our gross domestic product, and it employs 14,000 people, paying almost $400 million in wages.

Just yesterday, 450 businesses understood why we were taking this position; 450 B.C. businesses signed a joint letter calling on the government to continue to stand up for our coast and the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on protecting our coastline and our environment from a spill.

Question Period: On the economic justification for the Trans Mountain pipeline

Yesterday in the legislature I had the opportunity to rise in Question Period to question government about the dubious economic justifications underpinning Alberta and Federal rhetoric supporting the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Below I reproduce the video and text of the exchange with the Minister of the Environment.


Video of Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: The federal and Alberta governments, not to mention the B.C. Liberals, with their alternate facts, hysterical rhetoric and revisionist history, have been fearmongering about the risks to our economy if the Trans Mountain expansion doesn’t go ahead.

Mr. Speaker: Member, if I may stop you for a moment. If you could ensure that your question does not refer to the opposition, since it’s supposed to be directed to the government member.

A. Weaver: That’s fair enough, hon. Speaker. I’ll make sure it doesn’t refer to the members opposite. I assume, hon. Speaker, that this will also be applied to when we’re referred to in their questions, because it’s been multiple times over the time that we’ve had here that they’ve referred to us. I look forward to that. Thank you.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

A. Weaver: But it’s been reported that governments are actually basing economic claims on an analysis commissioned by Kinder Morgan itself. Experts are raising significant questions about this analysis, whether it’s because of changes in market conditions, flawed methodology or erroneous assumptions about how the oil markets function. Some raise serious doubts about the argument that we could fetch a higher price for our oil in Asia than in the U.S. One expert called this argument “kind of bogus.”

Add to this the fact that the price of oil has collapsed. In making its business case, Kinder Morgan assumed a price of $100 to $150 per barrel, and prices are now $60 per barrel.

My question is to the Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, who I understand has laryngitis, so I will pose this question to the Minister of Environment. We’ve heard this government talk about the risk of a spill to our environment. But what is their position on the questionable claims made about the economic benefits of this pipeline?


Answer


Hon. G. Heyman: Thank you to the Leader of the Third Party for the question and raising these issues in the Legislature. Certainly, I’m aware of the difference in the market price of oil. I’m aware of questions that have been raised about the economics of the project as, I suspect, are most members of the House. However, with respect to those questions, that is not the primary concern of our government, nor is it the responsibility of our government to determine the economics of a project which we have neither initiated nor sought.

What is our job, however, is to ensure that we do everything we can to protect British Columbia’s economy, the tens of thousands of jobs in tourism, in film and television, in the seafood sector, and the billions in economic development that stand with it, all of which could be at risk from a single spill of diluted bitumen. We believe that we must defend B.C.’s economy. We must defend our interest. We must defend our environment.

We understand it’s a federal project — federally regulated — a project in terms of allowing it. We understand also that the constitution has a clear role for provinces in permitting, in conditions and in regulating against negative impacts that are a concern and a detriment to our province.


Supplementary Question


A. Weaver: The economic conditions have indeed changed significantly since Kinder Morgan was approved. We’ve seen oil prices crater due to world market changes. We face huge uncertainty about future prices due to new supply and to massive technological shifts, as markets around the world embrace renewable technology. Energy experts say it’s basically now impossible to predict future prices.

The analysis that Kinder Morgan relied upon in its application to the NEB and its claims of the economic benefits to Canada from this pipeline fundamentally assumed that there was no other export capacity that would be built.

Since then, Keystone XL and line 3 have now been approved, which add over one million barrels a day of export capacity. We now have more capacity than we need. In light of the trends, it’s absolutely shocking that our federal government is willing to put taxpayer money behind this pipeline.

 

My question, again — through you, through the Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, who has laryngitis, to the Minister of Environment — is this: will this government demand that the federal government and the government of Alberta publicly release their economic case justifying their rhetorical assertions as to the economics of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and its fundamental business case for national security and national importance?


Answer


Hon. G. Heyman: While it isn’t the job of the province of British Columbia, specifically, to make demands of the federal government with respect to business cases, when the federal government or the government of Alberta proposes putting public money into a project, I think they’d be well advised to listen to the advice of the Premier of British Columbia, who said: “Our focus, and we think every province and every government in Canada’s focus, should be on adding value to our resources and creating the most jobs possible for resources.”

That’s what we’re trying to do here in British Columbia. We’re trying to get the most value from our resources to give the most value to British Columbians, who want jobs, rather than profits to corporations headquartered outside of this province.

We will continue to take every step that we’re allowed under the constitution to protect tens of thousands of jobs and to protect our tourism industry, our seafood industry, our film industry — the billions of dollars in GDP — from the tremendous threat of a catastrophic oil spill that could be caused by a pipeline rupture. It could be caused by a train derailment. And it could be caused by a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic off our shores.

Question Period: On the shocking nature of Alberta’s recently introduced legislation

Today in the legislature the entire question period was once more focused on the Trans Mountain pipeline project. I was up third again sandwiched between several BC Liberal MLAs asking about the same topic.

I took the opportunity to further question the Attorney General and the Premier as to what actions they plan to take regarding Alberta’s recently introduced outrageous legislation in light of the Premier of Alberta’s remarks suggesting that it was intended to give them the tools to target B.C.?

I was delighted with the strong answers I received to both questions.

Below I reproduce the video and text of the exchanges.


First Question Video Exchange



Second Question Video Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: I find it remarkable that I sit here and listen to the official opposition defend the interests of Alberta over the interests of British Columbia.

Yesterday we saw the Alberta government, as was mentioned, introduce legislation intended to directly punish British Columbia for trying to protect our country’s coastline and coastal communities from a threat of a diluted bitumen spill.

If that was used — and members opposite should know this — it would be illegal if used to raise the price of gas. Constitutional lawyers have ruled on this. It would be illegal for them to do this, and the liability that Alberta taxpayers would take upon that would be unbelievable.

Frankly, the same Albertans should realize…. Where do they get their natural gas from to actually power the oil fields? They get it from northeastern British Columbia. They should know better than to do this.

This latest move was precipitated by Kinder Morgan’s imposition of a May 31 deadline to achieve certainty before going ahead with the Trans Mountain expansion.

In response to the legislation, the Attorney General said yesterday….

Interjections.

A. Weaver: If you let me actually ask it, I would. Thank you very much, Members opposite.

This is what the Attorney General said: “If there is anything in this legislation that even suggests the possibility of discrimination against British Columbians, we will take every step necessary” to protect the interests of British Columbians.

My question is to the Attorney General. Given the Premier of Alberta’s previous remarks suggesting that this legislation was intended to give them the tools to target B.C., can you please specify what specific actions you’re planning to take in response?


Answer


Hon. D. Eby: I thank the member for his question and for his commitment to British Columbians.

We’ve reviewed the bill. We believe it’s unconstitutional and illegal, on its face. It’s especially so — if that’s possible — given the context of the comments of members of the government of Alberta about the purpose for which the bill was introduced.

There are three options available to our….

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members.

Hon. D. Eby: There are three options available to our government in terms of responding to this. One is, before the bill passes, we could refer it to our courts. After the bill passes and receives royal assent, we could challenge it in court as unconstitutional. And in the incredibly unlikely event that the government of Alberta actually thought that they had the authority under the law to use this act, we could be in court on an injunction to stop them from doing so and to challenge it and to sue the government of Alberta.

So we think that they are very unlikely to use this, given the analysis, and we think they know it. It is a bill for political purposes only.


Supplementary Question


A. Weaver: I want to build upon this in light of the fact that members opposite are putting at risk our natural gas production in northeastern British Columbia that goes to Alberta. I’d like to pick up on that.

In addition to the development and discovery of new shale oil deposits, we’ve seen profound technological shifts and the rise of renewable energy in markets around the world, not least in Asia. And what are the supposed targeted markets for this pipeline?

Kinder Morgan is playing one jurisdiction off against another. I reiterate: our natural gas producers in northeast British Columbia have the single-largest buyer of their natural gas being Alberta. And members opposite are putting that at risk with their rhetoric supporting Alberta’s illegal behaviour.

One week since they issued their ultimatum, they’ve managed to secure taxpayers to prop up their government. Commitment….

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members, we shall hear the question.

Leader, proceed.

A. Weaver: One week since they’ve issued their ultimatum, they’ve managed to secure taxpayer dollars to prop up their project, commitments that the federal government will steamroll community and First Nations opposition and further punitive legislation that sets a dangerous precedent for interprovincial trade. Canada needs a leader right now who is not going to let Kinder Morgan play one jurisdiction against another.

To the Premier: despite Alberta’s posturing, will you assure this House that you won’t get dragged into a tit for tat with Alberta where nobody wins?


Answer


Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member for his question. It is not my intention nor is it the intention of my government to be provocative with other parts of the country. That’s not what I believe how cooperative federalism works. I happily went to Ottawa at the request of the Prime Minister to meet with him, his Finance Minister as well as the Premier and the leader of the government of Alberta. We had a candid discussion and discovered that we had a difference of opinion.

In Canada, that’s okay. It may not be okay to the members on that side of the House to disagree periodically, but the Canadian fabric will not be torn because we don’t have the same points of view from day to day to day.

I believe that the important thing for us all to do is to stop with the yelling, stop with the bluster, and hope that cooler heads will prevail. I believe, also, that the courts are the appropriate place for this action — not political posturing and not grandstanding but making sure that reasonable people can put their points forward and have a determination by a third party, rather than reckless politics like we’re seeing from the other side.

Question Period: Corporate welfare and the Trans Mountain project.

Today in the legislature I rose during question period to ask the Premier about his recent meeting in Ottawa with Rachel Notley, Premier of Alberta and Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister. I rose third in Question Period between internally inconsistent questions that the BC Liberals also posed to the Premier. It seemed to me that the BC Liberals were more concerned about the interests of Albertans than they were about the protection of the BC economy and environment.

Below I reproduce the video and text of my exchange with the Premier. I was very pleased with his clear responses to my two questions.


Video of Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: I must admit, it’s galling for me to hear members of the Liberal Party of Alberta opposite wax eloquently about ocean protection — an area that I actually served as an intervenor on. I can assure you that when there’s an ocean protection plan that’s predicated on the existence of 20 hours of sunlight, nobody’s safety is being protected here in the province of British Columbia.

Yesterday the Premier met with the Prime Minister and the Alberta Premier to discuss the manufactured conflict over the Trans Mountain expansion that has the side opposite, the Liberal members from Alberta, all in a tizzy these days.

After the meeting, the Premier stated that he and the Prime Minister agreed to protect our coasts by working together to close gaps in the ocean protection plan. The federal ocean protection plan — let’s be clear, that’s Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific; it’s all three of them — doesn’t address the fundamental and unchanged fact that we cannot protect our coast. We can’t clean up the diluted bitumen if there we’re a spill. You don’t have to believe me, you can believe the Royal Society of Canada or the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. expert panel reports.

Will the Premier confirm that B.C.’s position is unchanged today and that he will use every tool available to him to stand up for our coast, for science and for our economy in the face of the proposed reckless federal intervention in the Trans Mountain expansion.

Mr. Speaker: Premier, before you answer the question….

Member, if I may ask you to retract your comment about the Liberals from Alberta.

A. Weaver: Sorry, I retract the comment about the Liberals from Alberta. I was trying to suggest that the members opposite are not putting the interests of British Columbians first, and are representing external interests.

Mr. Speaker: Thank you.


Answer


Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member, the Leader of the Third Party, for his question and, particularly, the reference to the Royal Society of Canada and the gaps there are in the science, which, again, brings me back, also, to the question from the previous member.

The government of British Columbia has been meeting regularly with the federal government on the ocean protection plan and discussing the gaps in knowledge, the gaps in science that have been acknowledged by the Royal Society. In fact, that was the foundation of our intervention to go to the public and talk about these issues in January.

I reaffirmed those points, hon. Member, to the Prime Minister and to the leader of the government of Alberta. I said very clearly and without reservation that the province of British Columbia is extremely concerned about the consequences of a catastrophic bitumen spill.

And I’ll remind the member for Skeena, who’s been silent in this House but active outside, of when he said, back in 2013: “There’s no real way to pick this product up out of the marine environment. If they can prove that, then they should show us where it’s being practised around the world. I’m just not willing to actually allow the Haisla people to take a position on that.”

So even some members on that side, hon. Member, agree with us that there is inexact science. We need to do more work on the subject.


Supplementary Question


A. Weaver: There’s growing evidence to suggest that Kinder Morgan set their outrageous ultimatum as either part of an exit strategy or in order to hand over the financial risk to Canadian taxpayers.

During the NEB hearings on Trans Mountain — I get that the people opposite don’t understand the economics of this — the company brought forward projections that the price of oil in the base-case scenario — if any of them had read the NEB process, they would understand this — would be $100 a barrel. Its best-case scenario saw prices reach $150 a barrel by 2040.

Since then, the development and discovery of new shale oil deposits, as well as OPEC policy changes, mean that oil has been trading at between $40 and $60 a barrel. Even the most optimistic forecast for 2020 is out around $70 a barrel. Despite this new reality, the federal and Alberta governments seem committed to transfer the economic risks onto Canadian taxpayers.

My question is to the Premier. Did he bring up with the Prime Minister the notion that subsidizing this project exposes B.C. taxpayers and Canadian taxpayers to massive risk at a time when there is growing uncertainty about Trans Mountain’s economic benefits, if any, and that it is not in line with the type of economic development needed to position Canada as a leader in the new economy?


Answer


Hon. J. Horgan: I thank the member for the question. We did raise, with the federal Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister of Canada, where the economics were in having the government of Canada intervene on behalf of an offshore company to invest B.C. and Canadian tax dollars in a pipeline, when there were other more constructive investments that they could make in the new economy, in the green economy. Or, at a minimum, even if they wanted to invest in diluted bitumen, to work with all parties…. I’m sure members on that side of the House would agree that if we could create more jobs in Canada by adding more value to our raw materials, whether it be diluted bitumen or logs, we should do that.

That was rejected by the government. They chose the course that I believe they’ll be laying out for the people of Canada in the days and weeks ahead, and it’ll be up to the Members of Parliament to debate those mechanisms, those tools, as they come forward. But it will be up to British Columbians and all Canadians to ask themselves if this is an appropriate investment of tax dollars.