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The ongoing subsidy of natural gas extraction in BC

Today in the legislature I rose during budget estimate debates for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources to ask a number of questions concerning the natural gas industry in British Columbia. My questions were designed to explore whether or not the BC Government was going to continue giving away our natural resources.

As I have mentioned numerous times over the past few years, the BC Liberals were so desperate to try and land an LNG industry in British Columbia that they literally gave the resource away. This giveaway is embodied in a number of Acts that they passed including Bill 30 — Liquefied Natural Gas Project Agreements Act, 2015 and Bill 19: Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Amendment Act, 2016.

My first two questions were designed to see whether or not the BC Government would pull the plug on the agreement with Progress Energy and its partners which was predicated on Petronas making a positive final investment decision by June 2017. Petronas decided to walk away from the project in July 2017.

The remainder of the questions were designed to contrast the BC taxpayer subsidy to the natural gas industry as embodied in the “deep-well tax credits” with royalties that the province receives from the natural gas sector. As you will see in the discussion below, the province makes virtually no money on natural gas royalties. And we have an accumulated $3.2 billion dollar tax credit subsidy on the books for this industry.

Below I reproduce both the text and video or the exchange. I am sure you will be shocked by what you read.


Text of Exchange


A. Weaver: I have a number of questions on this subject matter. First off, I am troubled by some of the direction this conversation is going. We’re still trying to double down on the economy of the last century, while the rest of the world is moving forward. But with that said, let me ask a couple of issues with respect to the royalties that we’ll get.

The first is this. We know that the previous government made a deal with Progress Energy and its partners that would have locked in royalty rates, low rates, for years and would have cost British Columbians millions in lost revenue. One of the key conditions of the deal, however, was that Petronas had to make a final investment decision on Pacific Northwest LNG by June of 2017, and Petronas decided to kill that project in July of this year.

Our government now has the legal right to terminate this backroom deal, this bad backroom deal, which literally gave away our resource. My question to the minister is: can the minister tell us if the long-term royalty agreement with Progress Energy will be terminated?

Hon. M. Mungall: Thank you to the member for the question. I appreciate that he’s done his homework and he’s looked at the details of this particular project. What I can tell him right now is that the ministry has started looking into it and started to look at some of the legal aspects around that. We’ll be able to have a better idea later on. Apologies for not being able to have a more fulsome answer for him today.

A. Weaver: Can the minister let the House know if any other long-term royalty agreements are being negotiated with other oil and gas companies in line with using the Progress Energy agreement as the bar by which others will be judged?

Hon. M. Mungall: There’s nothing of that kind at this time.

A. Weaver: If we move now to the deep-well royalty program — a program that has, in my view, surpassed its usefulness, but we’ll come to that…. This deep-well royalty program was designed to enable the provincial government to share the costs of drilling in B.C.’s deep gas basins. It has since transformed into a massive subsidy for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

It is my understanding that natural gas companies now receive hundreds of millions of dollars in “deep-well credits,” even for shallow wells, provided their horizontal sections are long enough. So five questions on this topic. One is: can the minister please tell the House what the amassed or outstanding value of these deep-well credits currently is?

Hon. M. Mungall: We’re getting that value of outstanding credits for the member. We don’t have it. We’re trying to find it in these big binders, so we’re getting that for him.

I just wanted to point out that in terms of how the program works…. I’m sorry if I missed it — perhaps the member already mentioned and he knows. What it is, is it’s credits against royalties owing. So it’s not money going to government. It’s just that we’re collecting less royalties based on a credit program that looks to incentivize industry for doing a particular task that government is hoping it will do.

A. Weaver: Very specifically, then: what is the value of the deep-well credits that were redeemed in 2016-2017?

Hon. M. Mungall: I’ll have to get back to the member on that as soon as possible. We’re just grabbing that for him.

A. Weaver: At the same time, I’d like to get the information as to what was the value of the royalties that the province of British Columbia earned from exploration in 2016 and 2017? And then I’d like to have the difference of those two numbers as well.

Hon. M. Mungall: We do have the first number for the member, and it’s the total of accumulated deep credits at $3.2 billion. That’s the total accumulation of all credits. Those credits are only available, however, to any company if their well is producing. So, if their well isn’t producing — say they earned credits as they did their exploration phase, but they didn’t produce the well — then they wouldn’t be able to access those royalty credits.

A. Weaver: The point I’m trying to get at here — and I really need the second part of those numbers — is that the credits that we give exploration companies from this deep-well program, these deep-well credits, essentially preclude us earning any money on royalties from the natural gas that is extracted.

Why it’s critical that we get the actual amount of money that we made from royalties for natural gas in 2016-2017 is we only have a cumulative total — $3.2 billion — that is yet to be claimed in the credit program. But we need to know the numbers based on an annual credit-versus-royalty gain to tell British Columbians how much we are actually making from our resource.

The reason why I think this is important — and I hope we can get these numbers before estimates end today — is that, frankly, I have no idea why this program is still needed. Why do we still need to have this deep-well credit program in light of the fact that horizontal fracturing is no longer a new technology? In fact, it’s in use all around the world. We had deep-well vertical fracturing, which my friend from Peace River South was referring to earlier, that went back decades.

Horizontal fracturing is not new. We don’t need those credits. So why do we continue to have this program? Because all that this ensures is that we earn nothing from our natural resource here in British Columbia.

Hon. M. Mungall: I’m going to make sure that we get all the correct numbers to the member opposite as soon as we possibly can, and if we’re not able to do that today for some odd reason, I’ll be sure to get it to him in the very near future.

On that, I appreciate his points. I think they’re fair points. I’ll take that into consideration.

A. Weaver: I was so dutifully notified that I was speaking at this microphone over here, where I should be speaking to my…. I’m standing at my desk, but the microphone was not pointed correctly. Corrected now.

The final question on this topic is: does the minister plan to continue this subsidy program? You know, we’ve talked about subsidies to the oil and gas industry in this province. This is a gigantic giveaway. It ensures that we essentially make no money from royalties because of the magnitude of the credit program that it can be claimed against.

In fact, my understanding is we’ve received virtually zero in 2016-2017 in natural gas royalties because of the deep-well credits that were claimed against those royalties. So will the minister continue this subsidy program?

Hon. M. Mungall: I’m terribly sorry. To the member, I didn’t catch the actual question because I got those numbers for him.

The total credits that were earned in 2016-2017 was $229 million, and the net of all royalty credits was $145 million. So we took in $145 million as government, in 2016-2017.

A. Weaver: And we gave away $229 million in the process. If I might add….

Interjection.

A. Weaver: Yes, because those credits were not claimed, were claimed against royalties — so that’s $229 million that could have come into our revenue here. We’re subsidizing the oil and gas sector to that amount.

Imagine this. If we actually subsidized renewable energy in British Columbia to the tune of $229 million a year, let alone the generational sellouts embodied in the Progress Energy agreement that we referred to earlier….

So my final question is: does the minister plan to continue this program, and if so, why does this industry still need a subsidy?

Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of reviewing the royalty credit program, there isn’t a plan to do so at this time.

 


Video of Exchange


Forthcoming

BC Greens, BC Liberals and BC NDP work collaboratively to improve legislation

Today in the legislature the BC Government introduced a series of amendments designed to improve the Election Amendment Act, 2017. In their accompanying news release, the Attorney General, David Eby, stated:

I am pleased that the amendments introduced today are a tangible result of that commitment and include changes proposed by both opposition parties.

We were very pleased that the government tabled two of our proposed amendments. Below is the press release that we issued today.


Media Release


B.C. Greens work with government to increase transparency, reduce influence of big money in new campaign finance legislation
For immediate release
November 20, 2017

VICTORIA, B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, and Adam Olsen, Party spokesperson for campaign finance, welcomed the introduction of a number of amendments to the Elections Amendment Act today. Two amendments, one to phase in quarterly reporting and another to limit the influence of big money currently in the system, were ideas that the B.C. Greens brought to the table during their consultations with the government following the introduction of the legislation earlier this year.

“Big money has been a notorious defining feature for B.C. politics, and it is remarkable how far we have come since the election,” said Weaver.

“We have now achieved all-party agreement on the need to reform our campaign finance laws. All parties have brought different ideas to the table as to the shape this should take, and today we have a number of amendments that reflect the views of all three parties. This is exactly how government should work and I am deeply encouraged by the emerging instances of collaboration in this minority government.”

Olsen added that the amendments greatly strengthen the transparency and integrity of the legislation.

“We felt that quarterly reporting for political donations, which is already required federally, was an essential feature for ensuring transparency in our campaign finance system,” said Olsen.

“Quarterly reporting will give the press and the public a much more clear and timely picture of the flow of political donations in this province, which will go a long way towards increasing accountability and trust.

“The prior political contributions amendment will ensure that the big money donations currently in the system cannot directly influence voters and pay for political attack ads. This will greatly expedite the transition to a campaign finance system where people, not special interests, are what drive our politics in British Columbia.”

-30-

Media contact
Jillian Oliver, Press Secretary
+1 778-650-0597 | jillian.oliver@leg.bc.ca

BC Liberal games & media cynicism as BC Greens & BC NDP move to improve lobbying regulations

In the last provincial election, the BC Greens were the only party to campaign on modernizing and strengthening British Columbia’s lobbying regulations to restrict undue influence from special interests. It was such an important issue to us that we ensured a commitment to lobbying reform was enshrined in the Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) that we signed with the BC NDP. Section 3.1d of that agreement states:

The parties agree that legislation will be introduced in the 1st sitting of the next session of the BC Legislative Assembly with a BC New Democrat Government to:

  1. Institute a multi-year prohibition on lobbying for former Senior Public Office Holders;
  2. Increase penalties for violations of the Lobbyist s Registration Act;
  3. Initiate a comprehensive review of the Lobbyists Registration Act, including the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists’ mandate, to ensure our democratic institutions and the interests of British Columbians are adequately protected from the influence of special interests.

Part of our collective commitment was fulfilled with the introduction of Bill 8 — Lobbyists Registration Amendment Act, 2017, which I spoke to at second reading.

Bill 8 was introduced at first reading on October 2, 2017.

We recognized that the Bill did not address all of the important issues contained in the Registrar of Lobbyists’ 2013 report entitled Recommendations for Changes to the Lobbyists Registration Act. As such my colleague, Adam Olsen (our critic on this file) initiated an extensive process of consultation in an attempt to strengthen the Bill.

One of the remarkable changes that has occurred since government changed is that the Attorney General has allowed members of the opposition access (on a trial basis) to legislative drafters to develop and draft amendments to proposed legislation. This is important since without access to their legal and statutory expertise, opposition MLAs would have a difficult time ensuring that amendments conform to legal requirements/precedent. We took advantage of this opportunity and developed a number of proposed amendments to Bill 8.

Our amendments appeared on the order papers on Wednesday, October 1, thereby giving all MLAs time to digest their implications prior to debate of the bill at committee stage a day later.

Unfortunately, during the drafting process we realized that our amendments could be ruled out of order as they introduced new sections to the original bill. My colleague, Adam Olsen, discussed this with the Attorney General who in turn committed to supporting our amendments in legislation to be introduced in the Fall of 2018 as part of the comprehensive review of the Lobbyists Registration Act promised under the CASA agreement. And so we decided not to move our amendments and risk that they fail solely on procedural grounds.  This is how parties work together to advance good public policy.

The BC Liberals, who ignored the Registrar of Lobbyists’ 2013 report when they were in government, decided that they too wanted to introduce an amendment. Rather than trying to build support for their amendment by giving MLAs advance notice, the BC Liberal amendment only appeared on the Thursday afternoon order papers, a few minutes before the afternoon session started. To make matters worse, they didn’t take advantage of the legislative drafters in drafting their amendment.

What I hope you will see from the video and text of our debate (reproduced below) is that while the BC Greens support the intent of the BC Liberal amendment, we simply cannot support the amendment as written. In fact, at about 11:55 in the video Adam Olsen jokingly suggests (while I was being heckled by the BC Liberals) that their amendment was drawn up using a crayon. We encourage the BC Liberals to ensure that they submit their ideas as part of the review process promised under the third bullet of section 3.1d of the CASA agreement. That is precisely what we are going to do. If three Green MLAs can do our homework in consulting, preparing and drafting amendments, the BC Liberals with their 41 MLAs surely can do the same.

As seen in the debate exchange reproduce below, I understand that there is ingrained cynicism within the BC Liberals who have spent 16 years in government and now see themselves in opposition. But I am perplexed by the cynicism embedded in the Vancouver Sun article written about this issue. The misleading headline states “Liberals, Greens failure to co-operate lets NDP pass bad laws”.

The bad law is what is present in the existing Lobbyists Registration Act. The BC NDP legislation substantially improves this. But the BC Greens argue that it is not enough. Both the BC NDP and the BC Liberals agree. We are committed to working collaboratively to ensure that we get the best possible legislation. And this will emerge in the Fall of 2018 after an extensive review of the existing legislation.

I was quite surprised by the rather outrageous comments made by the Leader of the BC Liberals who apparently “stood watching and fuming” as I was interviewed. Referring to me, he stated that “he doesn’t understand how this place works”. He then states “Why should Laurie be telling him what he’s doing? It’s not like they are telling us what they are doing either. It’s silly. Why would you get upset when somebody comes in and does their job? It’s the height of immaturity.”

I guess that is exactly the problem. I do understand how the Legislature has worked historically. For the most recent incarnation of the BC liberals, politics seems to be all about the quest for power and finding that gotcha moment. Indeed we did let the BC Liberals know about our motions well in advance as they appeared on the public order papers a day early. In fact, I personally delivered their house leader hard copies of our proposed amendments on Tuesday afternoon (2 days before the debates). We’ve also let them know about other proposed amendments. But springing amendments on someone at the last minute without the benefit of thoughtful reflection is hardly appropriate in the quest to advance good public policy.

In my view, the debate speaks for itself.


Video of Debate



Text of Debate


A. Weaver: Thank you to the Attorney General.

Also, there was quite a remarkable turn of events that occurred in this session. That was that the Attorney General allowed members of the opposition and the third party access to legislative drafters to propose amendments. My colleague the member for Saanich North and the Islands will speak to this issue much more substantively and thoroughly shortly.

My question is relevant and germane to our actual conditions of discussing and contemplating support for this amendment. A question is posed directly to the member for Chilliwack-Kent, who did actually bring this amendment forward. Did he actually have this amendment go through the legislative drafters that we were granted access to in order to propose amendments prior to their submission that fit the legal definitions that were required and that were consistent with all other statutes that exist in British Columbia, or did he so choose not to have access to those legislative drafters?

L. Throness: I did not choose to do that. I was told that I had two routes, and I chose the route that I chose. Certainly, the drafting language can be cleaned up after we pass the amendment. We would have that access, as the member noted, to drafters now or then.

A. Weaver: I will stop there. I will admit that I do have trouble passing an amendment and turning that into law if that amendment has not gone through legal counsel to ensure that that amendment would actually meet the terms required for it to be legally approved in British Columbia.

Hon. D. Eby: Thank you to all the members for their remarks.

A. Olsen: I’d just like to address the amendment on behalf of myself and my colleagues. When this bill, Bill 8, was initially introduced, I was asked in the media about it. I said that it was a good start. It was a good start to amending a lobbyists registration act that had holes in it that you could drive a bus through.

Some of the challenges. A lobbyists bill that only requires someone to note who they intend to lobby is a problem. That’s not actually being able to keep track of who they’re lobbying and what they’re lobbying them on or for how long they’re lobbying. These are all things that I’ve brought up and suggested that we needed to tighten up on.

In fact, I did take the opportunity to take the other route that the member for Chilliwack-Kent chose not to. That was to work with government, to meet with the folks at the lobbyists registry office, to talk to them about the various things that they’ve recommended in the past that should be done in order to tighten up this legislation that did have these large gaps. In fact, the lobbyists industry themselves have requested and have asked for these changes to be made in order that there’s a level of fairness within the lobbying industry.

We spent quite a bit of time in our office working. I spent time working with my staff, going back and forth, to draft up amendments that were then put on the order papers so that the members in the opposition could see them. We took the time to have them properly drafted so that, at the time that we were going to be asked to vote on them, they were complete.

This is the work, the good work, that needs to be done in this place. I spent time speaking with the Attorney General about whether or not we were going to be able to bring these forward. Of course, there are some difficulties with them. We secured an agreement.

I think, in this case, where we’ve got an amendment that’s put in front of us a couple of hours before…. I seem to remember that this seems to be a practice. A piece of legislation or amendment gets dropped, and then when there are significant and substantive reasons why you wouldn’t support an amendment, as the Attorney General pointed out, had significant issues with the way it’s written…. If that’s the way that the members in the opposition suggest that we do business — agree to an amendment to make a bill and then go back and fix it later — to me, that is very challenging.

We need to have what we’re voting on in front of us. We need to have the ability to be able to take a look at it, to be able to digest it and then to ensure that what we’re voting on is something that is actually going to be able to withstand the test of time. To the point that the Attorney General made, the fact of the matter is that if the point was to capture the members of the confidence and supply secretariat, then perhaps it would have been better to find a way to capture those people without using the name of the confidence and supply secretariat. With a very simple name change of the secretariat, confidence and supply secretariat 2, those people then don’t fall into this legislation, which has to, by the way, withstand the test of time.

It’s not just for this minority government that we are creating lobbyists registration act amendments. It is for every government that comes after it. It’s for all of that.

I think what’s important here is that we take advantage of the opportunities in front of us. We have a commitment from the government that they are going to do a full review. This is a completely supportable suggestion that is being made by the members across to strengthen this legislation, to add definition to the legislation, to increase the people who are captured by this.

Those are good amendments. I suggested that to the member for Chilliwack-Kent. To do it in an ad hoc way, to drop it on this place and to suggest that that’s what we should do is adopt a poorly written, “off the side of the desk” piece, when in fact, there was the legal…. And to have other members suggest: “Oh, it’s just fine. I don’t know that legalese, so I’m not going to engage in it. It doesn’t matter anyway. It can be fixed later.” That’s very problematic.

Interjections.

The Chair: Members. The member for Saanich North and the Islands has the floor.

A. Olsen: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would just suggest that this is an opportunity. Put this to the review that’s going to happen. Put this through, and make sure that the people of the lobbyist registry office have a chance to look at this, have a chance to ensure that they get it right, to capture everybody that needs to be captured in it.

This is not about not capturing people. The smirks and smiles and all that…. That’s fine. This is not about the conspiracy theories that we’ve seen in this. Rather than using this opportunity as a soapbox, let’s make this lobbyists registry act a great lobbyist registry act. And let’s put it into the process.

I don’t think that this legislation is done yet. I’ve said that publicly. So to sit here and listen and hear that there is actually this thing that we’re trying to hide, trying to run, trying to not get this right… That’s just simply not the case. I’ve stood up in front of the media and publicly said: “This isn’t quite done yet.”

We’ve put forward amendments in a way that I think they should be put forward. This member put forward amendments in an ad hoc way, with language that is clearly problematic. They shouldn’t be supported, and I will not be supporting them.

L. Throness: I would just like to answer a few of the objections that have been raised. First of all, the minister insinuated that I wanted to exclude myself in not including MLAs in the amendment. I would remind him…. Perhaps he doesn’t know that I was parliamentary secretary up until a few months ago. Therefore, I would certainly be captured by the legislation, and we would be happy to be captured by the legislation.

The second thing that he said was that the name of the confidence and cabinet secretariat might change. My Green Party colleague said the same. Well, what if they changed the name of the parliamentary secretary as well? That, too, is in the act.

What if they change the name of “executive council” to “executive committee” one day? That might change as well. But we know that the confidence and cabinet secretariat will be in place for at least four years, so it’s important to capture that.

The final thing I would say is that the Green member said that they’re good amendments, but yet he relies on a flaw in process in order to avoid them. I would just suggest that he might as well call a spade a spade and say, “I’m just trying to avoid the amendment,” and be clear with voters.

A. Weaver: I’d like to rise and support my colleague here who has articulated that we actually find the contents of this amendment to be something that we could support. However, we cannot support approving legislation that, clearly, is not appropriately written and would not be consistent with a bill.

The members opposite did not take advantage of the legislative drafters that we were given access to. We used them.

Interjection.

A. Weaver: We use them.

It’s remarkable that the Attorney General gave all members access to legislative drafters. He recognized that this isn’t done.

Rather than actually take advantage of this, we see some really good ideas put forward by the member for Chilliwack-Kent written in a form that we simply cannot support now because it’s not legal. If we were to pass this, we would be doing a dereliction of duty in passing legislation that we knew has not gone through the legislative drafters for this House.

I can’t fathom why the member for Chilliwack-Kent did not (1) come to us and tell us about this amendment prior to the order papers this afternoon, (2) use the legislative drafters that we were given access to. Because we could have supported this. We could have supported this, and we look forward to supporting this if they actually follow the process, bring it forward in the review.

I’m not even sure, with my colleagues, some of the amendments put forward by my colleagues…. They are done legally, but I’m not sure how they will be ruled, whether they will be ruled in order or not. We’re okay with that, provided that the government is able to respect the wishes of the members here. And they’ve said in good faith that they are.

You know, I realize there’s so much deep, ingrained cynicism in members opposite that everything that is being done over here is some kind of Orwellian conspiracy theory for a quest for power and one-world governance. I get that. But really, for a second, stand back and think what we really want.

What we really want here is good public policy. We’re willing to work with members opposite. We’re willing to work with government. My colleague spent hundreds of hours with staff….

A. Olsen: Well, not hundreds.

A. Weaver: Tens of hours?

A. Olsen: Numbers of hours.

A. Weaver: Well, my colleague didn’t, but the staff certainly spent that time. The staff, collectively…. There would have been, I would say, hundreds of hours — our staff, who’ve been going to meetings, who’ve been putting this forward. I’ve got a lazy colleague here from Saanich North and the Islands, so he probably just looked at the final version and went: “Yeah, okay.” No, I’m joking.

Seriously, there was a lot of effort that went into this, and we don’t know how it’s going to  move forward, but we took advantage of the tools we were given.

I encourage the member for Chilliwack-Kent to not forget this. We support the intent of this. We support the intent. We agree with you that we shouldn’t, if we had access to information, be allowed to lobby. We agree. So bring it forward in the review process.

M. Bernier: I thought maybe the leader of the Green Party grew six inches, and then I realized he was standing on a soapbox. But I do want to say…. Hopefully he realizes the joking nature of that comment. It wasn’t a personal attack by any means.

I do want to address something that was brought forward during this amendment debate. This is the fact that when the minister is saying and the members from the Third Party opposition are saying that we have an opportunity to the legislative drafters, I appreciate that. But he himself said that sometimes it can take hundreds of hours.

My question to the minister when I’m finished, then, will be: is government now willing to not bring forward any bills and not vote on any bills until the official opposition has had a chance to not only to review every single bill but have access to the drafters on every single bill anytime we have an amendment — that nothing will be voted on until all of those bills are done? Because I know he might want to go talk to his House Leader and the rest of government, because that’s not always the way things happen.

You know, there’s an opportunity to bring things to the House, as the member who brought the amendment forward did. That is something very valuable within the process that we have here within this Legislature to do. I appreciate the comments that it might not meet the legal legislative test.

I know through my time in this Legislature, and I know the minister and others…. We’ve gone through this exact process many, many times. There have been times when we’ve actually stood down on a bill so we can actually bring an amendment forward. We can make sure that the legal drafting team, the legislative drafters, can make it better, make it proper and make sure that it meets the test that the whole House can support.

When I hear that the members from the Green Party are actually supporting the intention of the amendment, my question then would be: would they be willing to also stand up and vote that we don’t vote on this bill at this time — that we actually have an opportunity to change the intention and that we actually have a chance on this motion to amend it?

I think the minister himself has even said that, you know, some of the intentions he might like, maybe not, within the amendment, and it might not meet the legal framework. And I accept that.

Again, sometimes when we look at how fast the government might want to bring a bill forward and how quickly they might want to pass that bill to meet whatever objectives — some of the bills are on a tight timeline so that they want to do that — we won’t necessarily have the opportunity to always bring it forward to the legislative drafters if we, at the last minute after reviewing it, because of the short timeline, come up with an amendment.

Again, this amendment is brought forward in good faith. This amendment is brought forward for good reason, and most people in this House sound like they’re actually agreeing with the intent. I appreciate the members from the Green Party and their position that they availed themselves, sometimes, of something maybe we didn’t in this circumstances. That doesn’t take away from the intent of the amendment to try to make the bill better.

It actually worries me when I hear that they maybe appreciate and support the amendment but that they might vote against it just on principle — that maybe a policy to their liking wasn’t followed.

With that, I want to just leave it on the amendment and say that I support the amendment. I support the intent. I support the fact that we’re trying to work collectively in this House to fix an issue.

As my member from Surrey had mentioned, the line in the sand doesn’t have to be there. We can move it. The whole point of this House is to have debate, to have discussion, to make a bill better.

I know the minister, now, sat on this side of the House and quite a few times used this exact same argument of why we should be working together and why we should be making a bill better when an amendment comes forward. This is his opportunity, now, as the minister of the Crown to actually take his own advice to work with this House to try to make a bill better.

A. Olsen: I would like to provide some clarification. In no way was this debate that we’re having today about Bill 8 held up in any way to draft this amendment. We worked within the exact amount of time that we had — the exact same amount of time that the official opposition had.

So there was no…. The meetings that we had with the members of the staff at the office of the registrar happened on the phone and in person. They happened in the time. We consulted with them. We asked them about the amendments that we had. All of these options were available to the members of the official opposition.

The fact of the matter is, is that I also needed to be convinced that there wasn’t anything from the office of the registrar. That work was done in advance, on ours. I think that there’s a considerable amount of work that we’ve done, that needed to be done, in order to bring this forward.

I have said publicly that this isn’t about limiting the number of people that should fall under this bill. The fact is that this piece of legislation that we’re amending has needed to be amended and strengthened for more than a decade. Yes, there’s been some tinkering around the edges. But for the most part, it’s been left wide open.

This government…. It was an initiative that came from our platform. The fact of the matter is, is that there is going to be a process. This is a great opportunity to put this to the process — exactly the same way as the two amendments that I’ve got, which are incredibly important, that were on the order papers a day in advance for everybody to see.

It was all there for everyone to see, for everyone to debate. But through conversation, we got a commitment — the same commitment that could be given to have this piece pushed to a review, have it considered, have it a part of the process — and brought it in.

To me, I think that there is an important principle here that we do the good work in advance. So that when it is brought forward here…. Sure, it might be done in good faith. But there’s a lot left to be desired for about the amendment that we’re debating. Still, at this stage, it’s not supportable.

Hon. D. Eby: A couple of remarks coming out of members’ comments.

One member suggested — I don’t want to misstate what he said — that across Canada, there were similar provisions that the members were putting forward. Actually, we’re more exceptional in British Columbia by taking this step.

The legislation that previously existed in B.C. —hopefully, if this bill passes to replace sections of it — was just to register. It wasn’t a prohibition. And many provinces in Canada have similar registration requirements without the prohibition.

There are significantly fewer provinces that actually have prohibitions. I went through them earlier — Quebec, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan. We would join them with this bill.

I noted that the member was celebrating former MLAs coming through here. I was glad to see Terry Lake. I saw Barry Penner the other day. And Don McRae, I know, has been reaching out to folks. It is good to see former MLAs coming back to this place.

And it does raise the question that the member does, rightly, about should more MLAs be captured and should members of their staff be captured by the legislation. I accept that that’s a good question to ask.

The challenge with the proposed amendment is it’s not clear from the amendment, subsection (f), whether or not, for example, opposition MLAs are captured. I might believe that the member for Surrey-Cloverdale may have had access to inside government information. He might believe that he didn’t have access, that there wasn’t even a possibility that he had access to inside government information.

It’s not clear to me from the section whether it was, in fact, the member’s intention that opposition MLAs be captured by this amendment. Similarly, the member says that, well, he would be captured because he is a former parliamentary secretary. There is a two-year horizon. This government’s going to be here for four, just over four years, so the member will be outside of that.

Theoretically, he could go, as an opposition MLA, and lobby once his term is done here and he is replaced by an NDP MLA. Just pointing it out. There are serious tracking problems.

The big problem with the suggestion of the member of why don’t you just put it on hold and we’ll go and we’ll do this full process.

We introduced the bill October 2. It was there. Everybody had the chance to bring suggestions forward. The members chose not to do that. That’s fine. That’s their prerogative and their strategy as opposition. I don’t say there’s anything wrong with that.

The suggestion that they bring forward now, that we put it on pause and take their suggestions and turn it into legislation and so on that will actually work — the big problem is that means the bill will not pass this session. It’s just the reality.

Interjection.

Hon. D. Eby: I hear the member saying: “You can do it in a day.” I thought the members had been in government before. It moves a little more slowly than that, and there are other things that the drafters are working on.

This is an important first step. In my opening remarks in this very committee stage, I said to all of the members of this place: “This is a first step. We are doing a full review in 2018.”

I listed two provisions that we will be bringing in, in the fall of next year. If the member truly believes that opposition MLAs should be included in this process, in this prohibition, then let’s have that conversation. Let’s do that as part of the review.

I say if the member truly believes because I mean…. I heard a couple of the members suggest to the government — well, frankly, suggest that I was a hypocrite for bringing this proposal forward. It would be insulting if it wasn’t amusing, given the rotating door of key advisers in the Premier’s office going in and out of lobbying firms: Dimitri Pantazopoulos, Michael McDonald, Gabe Garfinkel, Matt Stickney, Minister of Education.

Where was the outrage when this was happening? Where was the prohibition when these folks were in government? There was a registry. Absolutely, there was a registry. But the registry did not prevent the kind of activity that raised the concerns of the public.

I support us moving forward with this. I accept the member’s points that there’s lots more work to be done. I agree with them, which is exactly why we’re doing the review in 2018.

If this was the last time we were going to look at the lobbyists bill, you know, maybe we would have that conversation. But in fact, I’m telling the members we have a full review process that’s going to be happening and another bill coming in the fall of 2018 where their suggestions can come forward.

There’s lots of opportunity for that. And with that, I close my remarks and hope we can vote on this.

Balancing the rights of tenants and landlords

Yesterday in the Legislature I had a very productive exchange with the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing during committee stage of Bill 16: Tenancy Statutes Amendment Act, 2017. As noted in my second reading speech, I felt it was important to highlight some potential unforeseen consequences of passing this important piece of legislation. In particular, I focused on the issue of short, fixed-term leases that are sometimes used by landlords to protect not only landlords from bad renters but also other tenants (in the same building or suite) as well.

More details are developed in the exchange reproduced in video and text below. I appreciated the thoughtful responses from the Minister.


Video of Exchange



Text of Exchange


A. Weaver: I thank the member opposite for raising this issue at this particular section. I was going to raise a similar issue at a subsequent section, as it does come in at numerous places.

I want to start by commending government for actually addressing an issue that clearly is an important issue and for providing additional resources to the rental tenancy process, because it is a very burdensome process.

I do want to bring forward the concerns that were just expressed. It is an issue that I raised at second reading too. The problem is that, I suspect,  there are a lot of unforeseen consequences that might arise if this is not thought through in its entirety.

I give an example, and the member opposite, the member for Vancouver–False Creek, highlighted a number. One is, let’s suppose hypothetically, that you have a rental agreement with a number of renters, and these renters are living in the same quarters. The problem is that when you sign an agreement, you’re actually protecting other renters as well as the landlord. By signing a short-term agreement, you might have multiple people with tenancy agreements sharing rooms in a basement suite, and in fact, what’s critical is that you ensure that there’s a relationship not only between the landlord and the tenant but between the tenants themselves.

Now, we understand that there is a process to go through this by appealing, etc. But it is so burdensome, it is so impossible…. I mean, those who have had to try to remove a tenant, even with damage or not paying rent, can issue all the eviction notices they want, but the reality is that it’s very, very difficult to evict a bad tenant as it stands.

The beauty of a short term…. When I’m talking a short term — I think the member for Vancouver–False Creek and I have discussed this — we’re talking three months, four months. What we’re thinking here is that you’re giving a short-term contract — this would be all done in a regulatory fashion, obviously — which would allow for renewal but no increase in rent attached to the unit.

What this does is…. The advocacy groups were trying to attach rental increases to a unit. That, obviously, is not going to work, for a variety of reasons. However, you could take what they’re suggesting for a short-term lease of three months, say, and say that the rent cannot increase if the tenancy is a fixed-term lease for three months. Then, in fact, the rent increase is attached to the unit.

I’m wondering if the minister might consider this, as she discusses with civil servants, as a means and ways of protecting not only landlords from bad renters but other tenants as well. By having — pick a number; say, three months…. You will allow three-month fixed-term leases, but there can be no rent increase if a lease is terminated after three months. The rent must remain fixed at the previous value. This would allow landlords and other tenants to be protected in the case of an inappropriate relationship or a tenant who’s created some issues.

Hon. S. Robinson: Part what I’m hearing, actually, makes things more unstable for renters in terms of this idea that unless they’re on their best behaviour and no one complains about them, then they don’t know for three months whether or not they actually will have a place to live after 90 days. That creates more instability and, I think, more terror for the more than 1½ million renters in British Columbia.

There are provisions in the act that allow a landlord, should there be a problem tenant…. Even if it is with other tenants in the building or in the basement suite or whatever the arrangement is, there is an opportunity to have that tenant removed. That currently does exist in the act.

A. Weaver: With respect, again, I reiterate that every landlord in the province of British Columbia understands that there’s a process, but heaven forbid you actually have to enter into this process, because the process is very prejudicial, in my view and in many people’s view, against the landlord.

You could have tenants who are not paying rent for months. Try to get a tenant out if they haven’t paid rent for three months. You can get the sheriffs involved. It’s very, very difficult, even with the existing rules, because of the lack of teeth to those rules in a manner that actually allows the landlord to evict those bad tenants.

So I appreciate, again, the potential for uncertainty. But the reality is, I would argue, there wouldn’t be uncertainty because right now landlords are using such clauses for short-term reasons, and they’re using them for precisely the reasons articulated by the member for Vancouver–False Creek. It’s just to test rental situations.

The single most important thing for a landlord is to ensure that they get a tenant who will be there for a long term. Every landlord wants to get the tenant who will never move out, because when they get such a tenant, they’re not painting the walls again, they’re not replacing this. They’ve got a stable tenant.

We’re talking about a few landlords and a few tenants in all regards here, but we’re focused entirely on the tenants who’ve been abused, frankly, by those few landlords who’ve created the need for this regulation. But I worry that if we’re not thinking about those few bad tenants as well and about protecting landlords, we could create troubles down the road.

I’m not going to belabour this, because we’re going back and forth. But I urge the minister, with her staff, to seriously reflect upon the comments made by the member for Vancouver–False Creek as well as these comments, as you move forward, to ensure that good landlords are protected — not just by having to go through this abyss of a process to get rid of bad tenants — and supported as well.

There is a danger here. In having a long conversation with the various associations and one particular association involved with landlords, there’s a lot of concern in the province of British Columbia about this from landlords, good landlords — forget the bad landlords; from good landlords — and that’s why I urge caution.

Hon. S. Robinson: I take the member’s concerns quite seriously, and our government does. That’s why we have increased funding to the residential tenancy branch significantly, with an additional $7 million over the next few years. And we are developing a compliance unit that will deal with challenging tenants and challenging landlords to make sure that is addressed, because we have heard that landlords need some teeth for the act. So we’re also making sure that we’re strengthening the administrative penalties.

We’ve heard that feedback, and we’re strengthening the act. We’re strengthening the ability of the residency tenancy branch to do its job as it’s supposed to. We’re also simplifying the process for accessing the residential tenancy branch and getting the help that it needs, and we’re going to be monitoring it closely. I have asked for feedback to make sure that it is doing what it’s supposed to do.

At the end of the day, this is about managing relationships. We know that a landlord-tenant agreement is a relationship, and we want it to work. I think they do work most of the time. When things do go sideways, it’s important to have an outside body that can either help manage that relationship or help dissolve the relationship.

The act has in it times in which you can dissolve that relationship. Making sure that we have a robust residential tenancy branch that has the capacity to do its job is very, very important, and we’re going to be monitoring it closely.

A. Weaver: I just wanted to thank the minister for her thoughtful response to the questions.

Confusing press release on freezing BC Hydro rates — they’re not actually frozen yet!

Yesterday the BC Government issued a press release entitled Province delivers on commitment to freeze BC Hydro rates. The release states:

The British Columbia government is delivering on its promise to freeze BC Hydro rates, putting an end to the years of spiralling electricity costs that have made life less affordable for B.C. homeowners and renters, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Michelle Mungall announced today.

You would be forgiven if you thought that this announcement meant that BC Hydro rates were not going to go up next year. Clearly the CBC , Black Press and numerous other news outlets thought this was the case. So imagine our collective surprise during Budget Estimate debates for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources when we found out that in fact this isn’t yet confirmed.

Instead, what the government has done is instruct its Crown Corporation, BC Hydro, to ask the independent British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) to consider overturning its already approved 3 percent rate increase for 2018. It is entirely uncertain whether the BCUC will do this given the autonomy of this organization, the very legitimate concerns about the fiscal sustainability of BC Hydro, the ability for intervenors to provide further information and so forth.

As evident in the discussion below, Tracy Redies (MLA for Surrey Whiterock), Mike Bernier (MLA for Peace River South) and I worked collaboratively to unravel what was really going on. It was a very respectful, yet revealing, debate. In the end, both the BC Liberals and I felt it was important for the Minister to issue a clarification so that British Columbians understand that there is still uncertainty as to whether or not rates will be frozen.


Text of Exchange


T. Redies: Minister, today you made the announcement that you’ll be freezing B.C. Hydro rates for a period of one year starting April 1, 2018. That was a little surprising because yesterday you had talked about doing a review and trying to find cost savings.

I’m just curious now that you’re forcing B.C. Hydro into this $150 million hole, how is this going to be made up? Are additional capital projects going to be cancelled?

Hon. M. Mungall: We canvassed this issue quite extensively yesterday with B.C. Hydro staff. The announcement made today was actually exactly what I said we would be doing yesterday. So there’s absolutely nothing different from any of our conversation, any of the questions that the member opposite asked.

All the answers would still stay the same because, at the end of the day, I asked if B.C. Hydro staff can go home to Vancouver, or if they were required to stay to answer any further questions. I was told that there wouldn’t be anymore B.C. Hydro questions.

So I don’t have the appropriate people to go deeper if the member is wanting to do that. I’m happy to take any questions in writing and make sure that I get back to her in a timely manner.

That being said, it’s her time, so if she wants to ask questions, she can. But I’ll let her know now that my answers from yesterday would be the exact same today.

T. Redies: Thank you, Minister, for your answer. I’m just very surprised that you have made an announcement. That’s why we’re back today. You’ve made an announcement, or rather, the minister has made an announcement. Pardon me. The minister has made an announcement that is going to affect the company by $150 million.

Would there have been no discussions with B.C. Hydro in terms of how this would be made up? I mean, you wouldn’t just make a decision about $150 million without having some idea of how this was going to be made up. Surely, the minister must know something.

Hon. M. Mungall: As I was saying yesterday, the rate freeze has always been tied to a review of B.C. Hydro. Also, as I said yesterday, the rate freeze will be starting in April 2018. If it goes forward — we hope that it does — the BCUC, ultimately, is going to be looking at this.

What has happened is that we have collaboratively worked with B.C. Hydro. B.C. Hydro is changing its revenue requirement application from the 3 percent rate increase it had in that RRA for April 2018 to zero percent. They’ve amended their RRA that is currently before the B.C. Utilities Commission.

The B.C. Utilities Commission will then do the due diligence that is required and determine whether a zero rate increase is acceptable. Should it be acceptable, then we will move forward with that rate freeze and conduct a review of B.C. Hydro over the course of that year. Because the rate freeze doesn’t come into effect until April 2018, it actually gives us time, by the time all of the accounting is done in that year of review, to look at ways where we can mitigate any impacts of the freeze.

T. Redies: I’m now very confused. The minister and her government just announced today a rate freeze. But I think, based on her answer, she’s saying it may or may not happen because the BCUC might decide it’s not appropriate. Is that correct? Is there a rate freeze or isn’t there?

Hon. M. Mungall: There is going to be an application for a rate freeze before the B.C. Utilities Commission.

T. Redies: So if it wasn’t a done deal, why would the minister and her government go out with a public release today telling the public that there is going to be a rate freeze starting April 1, 2018? That makes no sense.

Hon. M. Mungall: I’m sorry if the member opposite didn’t feel that I was clear yesterday. I felt that I was. I thought that I was very clear that we would always be going forward to the B.C. Utilities Commission in this very fashion. That was part of the news release that we put out, and it’s what I said to reporters just an hour and a half ago. Members opposite, I do believe, had staff people recording that, so they can go back and see that. But that has always been the process that we talked about — yesterday as well as today.

T. Redies: I know what the process is, Minister. I know what the process is. I’m just confused as to why the minister would go out with a public press release announcing this rate freeze, when she didn’t know whether or not it was going to actually happen. Isn’t that a bit misleading for the public?

Hon. M. Mungall: As I said to the member opposite, the process was clear. It is in the news release. I was clear with all of the media about the process — that we’re bringing it to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review.

A. Weaver: With respect to the minister, I’d like to read the formal government press release. It says this:

“The British Columbia government is delivering on its promise to freeze B.C. Hydro rates, putting an end to years of spiralling electricity costs that have made life less affordable for B.C. homeowners and renters, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources announced today.

“B.C. Hydro rates have gone up by more than 24 percent in the last four years, and by more than 70 percent since 2001. The minister says that in 2016, B.C. Hydro applied to the B.C. Utilities Commission for three years of increases, with a 3 percent increase planned next year, but will be pulling back its request, consistent with this administration’s commitment to a rate freeze.

“‘After years of escalating electricity costs, British Columbians deserve a break on their bills,’ said the minister. ‘From the moment we took office, we’ve taken action to make life more affordable. As part of that, we’re going to make sure that B.C. Hydro is working for the benefit of British Columbians and that its rates reflect that commitment.’

“The rate freeze will provide government the time to undertake a comprehensive review of B.C. Hydro. That review will identify changes and cost savings to keep rates low while ensuring B.C. Hydro has the resources it needs to continue to provide clean, safe and reliable electricity. Details of the scope and process for the review will be developed once government has made a final decision.

“After completing a comprehensive review of B.C. Hydro, any cost and revenue adjustments identified will be reflected in the rates starting in April 2019.

“The rate freeze” — again — “follows government’s commitment in its September budget update to phase out the provincial sales rates on electricity.”

It says nothing about approaching BCUC. It’s very clear, and I concur with the member opposite. I feel that this is quite misleading. I would like the minister to please clarify why the press release says, on the one hand, there’s a rate freeze, and now here today we understand that there’s not really a rate freeze but an application for a rate freeze.

Hon. M. Mungall: He read the press release in full, and he also read directly from the paragraph that talks about B.C. Hydro going to the B.C. Utilities Commission and exactly how the full process is taking place, how it’s tied to a review.

I am sorry that he finds it misleading. I personally am curious as to how he does. I mean, it seemed to be really clear to me.

T. Redies: Now that the minister has gone out with this press release, what does she plan to tell British Columbians if BCUC comes back and says: “No, you can’t have a zero percent rate increase”?

Hon. M. Mungall: That’s a fair question, absolutely, and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. We have to go through the B.C. Utilities Commission first. We value the input that the BCUC has in our rate-setting process. We value the input that they have overall in managing our public utility from an independent, expert body looking out for the interests of the public. So we feel that the appropriate process, as defined in legislation and regulation, is to go through the B.C. Utilities Commission first and foremost. We will see what their decision is.

T. Redies: We are not quibbling about the process with BCUC. This is a process that B.C. Hydro has undertaken pretty much every year. They have a regular dialogue with BCUC, and if there are going to be rate increases — I guess now zero increases — they have to get BCUC’s permission. What we’re questioning is why the minister would go out with an announcement that signals, I think, to the public very clearly that they are responding to their prompt campaign promise and they are delivering on a rate freeze when she doesn’t have any degree of certainty that she’ll actually be able to deliver on that.

Hon. M. Mungall: I think that it’s appropriate to bring the public along with government as we take action on a number of items. I think that it’s appropriate to let the public know that we’re taking action on this item that was very important to them.

It was clear on the doorsteps I knocked on and, I’m sure, on the doorsteps the member opposite knocked on — and on any doorsteps in this province — that people are concerned about affordability. Every dollar counts when we’re dealing with an affordability crisis. So we committed to freezing hydro rates as part of our larger package in dealing with affordability. I think it’s appropriate to then tell the public what we’re doing to meet that commitment and be upfront about it, and that’s what we’re doing.

M. Bernier: Just trying to understand and clarify this, then. The minister made an announcement earlier, saying that they’re saving $150 million of taxpayers’ money through the rate freeze. She’s also on record saying that she respects the autonomy of the Utilities Commission. But by this announcement, she’s also admitting, it sounds like, that she’s prejudging the outcome now of that same group of which she says she respects their autonomy.

Can the minister explain to not only this House but to the people in British Columbia, because now we’re really confused: are they saving $150 million right now? Or are they, as she says, just putting the application forward and having to wait now to see what the Utilities Commission is actually going to say and whether they’ll approve that application?

Hon. M. Mungall: So I just want to be very clear for the record that I’m not prejudging, and nobody in this government is prejudging, the outcome at the B.C. Utilities Commission.

What we are doing is the appropriate process, and we are being upfront and honest with the public. I think that is the right thing to do. I think we all in this government think it’s the right thing to do. And so that is what we’re doing.

M. Bernier: So can the minister then clear the air, in the sense of letting the public know and letting this House know: was it an accurate comment for her to make, then, that says that the taxpayers are now saving $150 million? Or is it more of a fair comment to say they’re waiting to see if the Utilities Commission approves their application? At which point, if approved, they might be saving money.

Hon. M. Mungall: Just to clarify. I’m sure the member meant this, but just in case, and for the people who might be watching at home, the savings of $150 million would be felt by ratepayers, not taxpayers. I’m sure the member knows that difference, but I just want to clarify for anybody who might be watching.

Again, I think what is important to note here and what I’ll be sharing — and it sounds like it might be over and over and over again — is that we made a commitment during the election to make life more affordable for British Columbians. We are living up to that commitment.

One of the ways that we said we would do that is to freeze hydro rates. There is a process to go through to get to that place, and we’re following that process, and we’re being upfront and honest with the public about what that process is. We intend to live up to our commitment, absolutely, but we’re going to follow the process to do that.

M. Bernier: So just to the minister, I’m well aware of the process. I managed a utility company — was part of that for 22 years. I worked with the Utilities Commission through rate applications for that entire time, so I’m well aware of it. And every single time, we were always told that we had to wait, because sometimes on a Utilities Commission application, there are opportunities for intervenors, there are opportunities for discussion, there are opportunities on a wide gamut of things.

And you could never prejudge what the Utilities Commission would say. It’s an independent body that’s actually directed to be independent to look out for the ratepayers of British Columbia — as we canvassed yesterday and the minister was quite open on, when we talked about Site C and the role of the Utilities Commission then.

So, again, I’m just trying to understand, because…. The minister is publicly saying that the taxpayers, to make life more affordable, are going to be saving $150 million, but I have yet to hear the commitment. Is she actually directing the Utilities Commission to accept this application? Is the Utilities Commission being told, then, by government that they have to actually put this rate freeze in and accept that?

Hon. M. Mungall: As I’ve said earlier, there’s been no direction to the B.C. Utilities Commission, and should they disagree with the rate freeze, we’ll deal with that when the time comes.

M. Bernier: Is the minister willing to retract her press release and the comments then, because her government has come out and announced that the taxpayers of B.C. are saving $150 million? I think it’s fair now to say, from the line of questioning here and the answers, that they’re actually not. It’s still a maybe.

I know that her government has made promises. I know that her government and the ministry have made commitments. I’m not trying to take away from that. What I’m trying to ascertain is whether those commitments are actually still a pie in the sky. Are they happening? Are we waiting for reviews? Or is she actually telling BCUC what to do?

It sounds like the minister is not directing the Utilities Commission to accept this application. So in essence, is the minister willing to retract the press release and say that in essence, again, the people of British Columbia aren’t necessarily going to be saving $150 million yet?

Hon. M. Mungall: We’re going to have to agree to disagree here. I feel very, very solidly that our press release, everything I’ve said to media and everything I’ve said in this House has been consistent. There is no inconsistency from my perspective. I feel that we’ve been upfront. We’re being transparent. The members opposite may disagree. I’m not really surprised by that. I mean, they’re the opposition, and that’s their job. But we’re going to have to agree to disagree here.

A. Weaver: Before I ask the questions, I’d like to seek leave to make a brief introduction.

Leave granted.

Introductions by Members

A. Weaver: I’d like welcome a group from Vancouver Montessori School here, who are accompanied by their teacher, I understand: Mr. Michael Lee from Vancouver. I just saw them come in the audience, and I thought we’d introduce them and give them a little idea that what we’re debating here is the budget estimates for the Ministry of Energy, Mine and Petroleum Resources. The Liberal members opposite with the Green Party members are debating with government on this particular topic. With that, I welcome you, and I’m sure the rest of my colleagues here would welcome you as well.

Debate Continued

A. Weaver: I’m really troubled by the line of questioning here, and I’m really troubled by what’s being revealed. I have read that press release carefully. It is very clear from that press release that the government is telling British Columbians that they are going to freeze Hydro rates by April 2018. That’s the only message that you can take from this press release. It’s the only message that we took from our no-surprises, good-faith confidence and supply agreement discussions about this issue here.

This is a surprise that we are not actually freezing rates, but we’re going to the BCUC to ask them whether they will give us permission to freeze rates. But we’re not going to influence them on the one hand, because we respect the independence of the BCUC. But on the other hand, we’re saying that we’re saving $150 million. You can’t have it both ways.

So I would like to reiterate the concerns expressed by the member for Surrey–White Rock and the member from Peace River South and suggest that in emphatic terms that I believe that the minister owes British Columbians a formal correction in a press release. I will ask: will she be willing to do that in response to the line of questioning that we have seen here today?

Hon. M. Mungall: I guess, also, the Leader of the Third Party and myself and our government are going to maybe have to agree to disagree in terms of the wording of the press release. I feel it’s very clear. He did read it out. I don’t know what is unclear about that, but I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this.

A. Weaver: The press release should have said this, “B.C. government will seek the ability from BCUC to freeze rates,” not “B.C. government will freeze rates.” But they said, “B.C. government will freeze rates,” and that’s simply not correct. There’s no other interpretation here.

You know, sometimes it’s okay to admit that you’ve made an error, but it is not okay to double down in defence of something that is clearly wrong. Again, to the minister: will she correct this publicly? Because it is misleading, and people across British Columbia think that their rates are going to freeze in April 2018, when they’re not. They’re not going to freeze unless the BCUC says they will.

Hon. M. Mungall: We’ve been canvassing this issue for just over 45 minutes now. I haven’t offered any new information or anything different, and I think we’ve come to the conclusion that this government and members opposite are just going to have to agree to disagree in terms of the wording of a press release.


Video of Exchange