LNG, referendum set to dominate B.C. fall session

A preview of what is likely to happen in the fall session of the legislature.

This session could be most contentious for NDP-Green agreement

The fall session of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in Victoria, begins October 1. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The fall session of the British Columbia legislature begins Monday in Victoria.

Familiar issues such as housing, the economy and proposed LNG development will likely dominate the fall session, as well as the long-awaited referendum on proposed changes to the province's voting system.

Later this fall, B.C. will choose whether to keep its current first-past-the-post electoral system, or change to a system of proportional representation.

The ballots will be mailed out in late October to all registered voters and must be returned by the end of November.

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver, whose party holds the balance of power in the legislature, made the referendum a condition of supporting the NDP minority government. 

And while Weaver has painted a picture of harmony with the NDP, he has hinted at tension.

"We both want this to work,"  he said. "Obviously there will be tensions ... but when you work together you have collaborate and compromise."

The issue of liquified natural gas (LNG) development may be biggest test of the Greens and NDP agreement.

"We both want this to work," Weaver said of his party's alliance with the NDP. "Obviously there will be tensions ... but when you work together you have collaborate and compromise." (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The government has pushed forward on the development of the LNG industry, which was a key election promise of the Liberals in 2013.

Weaver has said he's opposed to LNG, and will vote against it, but he won't move a vote of non-confidence against the government on the matter.

"We've been very clear we're not going to support any enabling legislation that would try to essentially give away a resource to an industry that's not here," Weaver said.

Simon Fraser University political science professor Sanjay Jaram says the LNG issue won't likely cause the government to fall because the Liberal opposition supports LNG development.

"For them [the Liberals] to call a non-confidence vote on the issue would be tricky for them but it could potentially bring down the formal coalition between the Greens and the NDP," Jaram said. 

SFU political science professor Sanjay Jaram says he doesn't think the B.C. Liberals will call for a non-confidence vote over LNG. (CBC/Martin Diotte)

Housing

The issue of housing affordability will continue to dominate the agenda, particularly the proposed speculation tax, which would tax certain properties that aren't the owners' primary residence. It was a hot topic at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention earlier this month, where some towns and cities lobbied to be exempted from the tax.

Rental and affordable housing continues to be front and centre. Just days before the legislature is set to reconvene, the government  slashed the maximum allowable annual increase from 4.5 per cent to 2.5. in response to complaints from renters.

​ICBC

The state of the Insurance Corporation of B.C. also promises to be a challenge for the government. Attorney General David Eby described the corporation as a "dumpster fire' and has been trying to contain rate increases.

Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson says he's concerned about rates.

"David Eby said he's going to fix ICBC and it won't affect people's rates, but that was talking about last year's rates and the next year's rates are already on their way up."

A crackdown on distracted and bad drivers is underway. But a restructuring of the corporation is likely.

Child care

Child care advocate Sharon Gregson says that while the government has done a good job in helping to make child care more affordable, "it is just the start."

She says there needs to be a commitment to creating new spaces.

"The province needs to purchase custom-built modular buildings and get them on to public land in communities. Too many families are still on waiting lists."

The fall session is scheduled to begin on Monday and run until the end of November.

With files from Anita Bathe