B.C. to use gas revenues to pay down debt
Premier Christy Clark sets out government priorities in throne speech
B.C. Premier Christy Clark says she wants to use the trillion-dollar development potential of liquefied natural gas in the province by establishing a B.C. Prosperity Fund to pay down the provincial debt.
The fund was one of several new plans laid out by Clark in the speech from the throne that was read by B.C.'s new Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon on Tuesday in Victoria.
It was Guichon's first throne speech since she was appointed in November, and Clark was setting out her government's agenda for the final legislative session before the next provincial election in May.
In the throne speech, Clark said the new fund is expected to generate somewhere between $130 billion and $260 billion from liquid natural gas revenues and a new liquid natural gas tax over the next 30 years.
The main focus of the Prosperity Fund will be to reduce the provincial debt, currently at $56 billion, but Clark also suggested the fund could help eliminate the sales tax and invest in education and communities.
"Each year, British Columbia spends approximately $2.4 billion on interest to service the total provincial debt," read Guichon. "Imagine how that money could be used to support the services families depend on instead of giving it over to bondholders in New York and London."
Clark also said the government is now expecting five LNG plants will be developed in northwest B.C. by 2020, a significant increase from the September 2011 jobs plan that forecast the development of three plants.
The government says recent estimates of the impact of LNG development in B.C.'s north includes the creation of 39,000 jobs over the nine-year construction period and 75,000 new full-time jobs if the five facilities reach full production.
Clark also reiterated promises to block any new crude oil pipelines unless her five previously announced conditions are met.
Business and seniors issues
Other items laid out in the throne speech included a new organization to promote Vancouver as a "hub for Asian and South Asian corporate offices and investment."
Clark is also promising to take unspecified measures to help small business owners that will "help keep B.C. as the most small-business friendly jurisdiction in Canada."
Legislation will be introduced to create a new seniors advocate position and plans will be laid out to help stem elder abuse. This action stems from last year's provincial ombudsperson's report which cited the need for such an advocate.
In addition, Clark is promising measures to improve access to early childhood services and access to affordable child care, and measures to help families save for post-secondary education.
Other promises include unspecified improvements to rural health care and a proposal to develop a school of traditional Chinese medicine at a B.C. post-secondary institution.
The opening of the session marked the first time MLAs have been in the legislature in almost nine months.
NDP advertising legislation
Before the throne speech, Liberal house leader Mike de Jong said the Liberals would introduce legislation to wipe out the HST and re-establish the provincial sales tax, and introduce legislation to allow British Columbians to elect federal Senate nominees.
"You'll see the final package of legislation leading to the re-implementation of the PST, you've heard the government talk in the past about things like the seniors advocate, talk around Senate reform," said de Jong.
NDP House leader John Horgan scoffed at the Liberals' plans to allow B.C. voters to recommend a Senate nominee to Ottawa, saying that's not an issue his constituents feel is important.
Horgan says the NDP will also introduce legislation of its own to show what it would do if the party wins the May election.
"There will be a number of motions as well to give a flavour to the public about how we would address certain issues as they come forward," said Horgan.
"First and foremost will be regulating partisan ads. We'll be following the Ontario model and we're going to be tabling a bill in the first number of days of the session."
The MLAs won't be in Victoria long though. The legislative session is expect to last just five weeks, and then they will break to hit the campaign trail leading up to the May 14 vote.
The election campaign will officially start April 15.
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With files from Stephen Smart and The Canadian Press