Saturday February 06, 2016

Ratify TPP or Canada will be 'shut out' of economic growth, Christy Clark warns

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark pauses while addressing the LNG in BC Conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 14, 2015.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark pauses while addressing the LNG in BC Conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 14, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Listen 11:31

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership or face the dire economic consequences of staying on the outs of the largest trade deal in world history.

Clark said she supports the 12-nation Pacific Rim agreement — which was negotiated by the former Harper government — "100 per cent." 

"In every trade deal there are downsides but you think about what NAFTA has done for Canada in terms of growing jobs" and the country cannot pass up similar net benefits with the TPP, Clark said.

"We do 60 per cent of our trade with TPP countries in British Columbia, if we are not signed on to that deal we are going to be shut out," the premier said in an interview with Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

"It's not like this is a decision that's consequence-free. It could compromise NAFTA and our access [to the United States and Mexico]," Clark said. "It's a good deal for the country."

Clark said that the Liberal-dominated B.C. legislature will go so far as to pass a motion during the next session, calling on the federal government to ratify the TPP.

"We're bringing together a coalition of people who support it because we want the federal government to know: We understand they need to have a conversation with Canadians as they promised in their platform but we'd like them to do it quickly and we'd like to get this done," Clark said.

The deal, which has a two-year ratification deadline, has been criticized by a broad range of groups who have warned it could actually kill Canadian jobs, and does not have adequate environmental and labour protections.

Others have said that sitting out of the deal could give the U.S. and Mexico the upper hand in all future trade with Asia.

International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland signed on to the TPP in New Zealand with week, but has said it's "just a first step" and not necessarily a done deal.

As Alberta falters, B.C. booms

British Columbia is in the midst of economic boom of sorts. It is leading the country in growth — nearly double that of the national average — and the province has its fiscal house in order.

The C.D. Howe Institute recently named Clark as the Canadian leader with the best fiscal record given her government is running a budget surplus, and yet is still pushing ahead with an ambitious $7 billion infrastructure program.

"I remember [former Alberta Premier] Ralph Klein telling Albertans, 'Here's a bus ticket go to British Columbia and get your welfare.' Well, now we are saying to Albertans, 'We know you are in tough times, until you do better, we'd love it if you cross the Rockies and help us build our economy.'"

But Clark says that in an era of global economic uncertainty she can't take her eye off the ball, and needs the federal government to step up with infrastructure spending to help keep the B.C. economic engine humming along.

She said that Trudeau could take a leadership roll in "nation-building" by pushing through upgrades to the Vancouver port, the country's largest, and rapid transit. Clark flagged urban transit as a crucial element to meeting the country's climate change goals.

Clark warns of climate challenges

Clark is set to host a first ministers' meeting in Vancouver during the first week of March. Environmental ministers from across the country will gather to hash out a plan to meet commitments Canada made during the climate talks in Paris. 

The premier warned that road ahead will be tough as even B.C. — which has the largest and most costly carbon tax in North America — has struggled to meet its target for carbon emission reductions.

"[The $30 a tonne carbon tax] covers 80 per cent of the economy and we're still not meeting the goals.

"I look at the rest of the country and only one other province has a $10 carbon tax and it will go to $15 [and others will be joining soon] but if we couldn't meet our goals with the most expensive and broadest carbon tax in North America, we're going to have to be very imaginative in our strategies as a nation," Clark said.

The federal government needs to take the lead on reducing emissions from buildings, for example, which produce 20 per cent of the country's carbon emissions.

"I know the Prime Minister has a vital interest in that," Clark said to Hall.

Clark is asking for help from the federal government to help build new electrical infrastructure that would allow B.C. to sell hydro to Alberta, which is in the midst of a massive shift away from coal-fired energy.

The premier said similar projects could help Newfoundland, Quebec and Manitoba sell their clean energy to neighbouring provinces, significantly minimizing greenhouse gas emissions from non-renewal energy products.

LNG projects face delay

Clark claimed victory in the last provincial election — a dramatic come from behind victory after trailing the B.C. NDP in the polls for months — largely on her plan to dramatically expand the province's liquefied natural gas (LNG) capacity.

She said exporting LNG would be vital to the province's future, a source of 100,000 jobs and a key way for B.C. to become debt-free. But progress on that initiative as largely stalled, with Royal Dutch Shell putting new projects on hold in the midst of a natural gas price rout.

But Clarks says the LNG projects, which are principally in the province's north, are not yet dead and her dream of becoming an LNG powerhouse has support from the sitting prime minister.

"[Trudeau] has been nothing but positive about what we're doing for LNG. It's going to be as much energy extraction out of the ground as they have in the oil sands. It's a massive national impact. My sense from him is that he supports resource development and he wants to help us get there, and get there as quickly as we can.

"The central thing that animates him I think is jobs. He wants to support the middle class ... we need to extract our resources."