Three months before the 2013 provincial election, Christy Clark’s government issued a Speech from the Throne that made a few grandiloquent asseverations.
Today, the 2017 Speech from the Throne was presented to the Legislature. It is filled with familiar words. Keep in mind this set of whoppers from the 2013 version:
…Seizing this [natural gas] opportunity requires that we add new value to this resource, converting it for transport to markets outside our continent for the first time. This can trigger a possible $1 trillion in cumulative GDP benefit to our province over the next 30 years. An estimated 39,000 new full-time jobs, on average, will be created during the nine-year construction period. Once all facilities reach full production, there could be over 75,000 new annual full-time jobs.
These jobs can be created in every part of our province in many different sectors and sustained for generations to come …
For our province, two new major revenue streams can be created. The first comes from revenues generated from the growth in employment and business activity — new revenues in a growing economy that will greatly enhance government’s ability to provide services families depend on year after year.
The second stream of revenue comes from new royalty revenues directly for the province, British Columbia’s share of resource profits. This could exceed $100 billion over the next 30 years. This resource belongs to the people of British Columbia, both here today and those to follow. It must be spent wisely not just for the benefit of today’s citizens but also for our children and grandchildren.
To protect this second stream of revenue for generations to come, your government is establishing the British Columbia prosperity fund. Future royalties will be designated to this fund, ensuring British Columbia families can benefit from the prosperity created by natural gas in our province…
A main focus of the B.C. prosperity fund will be to reduce provincial debt. We have an obligation to make good on this debt, rather than ask our children to pay it for us.
Each year British Columbia spends approximately $2.4 billion on interest to service the total provincial debt. 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.
The B.C. prosperity fund can also target measures to improve social services and make life more affordable for families. Whether it is eliminating the provincial sales tax or making long-term investments in areas like education or vital infrastructure that strengthen communities, these are the kinds of opportunities the B.C. prosperity fund can provide.
Fellow British Columbians, this is the opportunity before us, but only if we seize it. It is not years away; it is now…
So, how are these initiatives going? To find out, I asked my grumpy neighbour:
Are you satisfied with provincial debt reduction?
Nope, I checked and found that provincial debt and contractual obligations are up more than $20 billion since 2012 and forecast to rise another $20 billion in the next few years.
Well the province must be pulling in massive amounts of gas royalties and rights payments. You noticed that, right?
Well, actually, it seems we paid out or accrued so much in production subsidies that we had a deficit in natural gas accounts of $365 million in fiscal year 2016. And, in the past four years, the province’s receipts from royalties and rights were about 1/10 of the preceding four years.
How about those thousands of new jobs from oil and gas development, does that please you?
What jobs? BC Stats reports 4.4% fewer people were employed by oil and gas and supporting industries in 2016 than when the last election campaign was underway.
You must have noticed the Prosperity Fund now exists.
Yes, but only as an accounting entry that didn’t move any actual dollars. It has had no money from LNG producers or natural gas companies. It’s just moving public money from one pocket to another.
Will there be no reduction in sales taxes?
Yes, there will be savings for some because business groups have been demanding they be wholly exempt from PST and government members are warm to the idea. That’s relief businesses hoped HST would provide but people voted against the change. Liberals can achieve the result a different way, leaving ordinary folks paying sales taxes forever more.
So, what can we do?
A clue was contained in the 2013 Throne Speech. As the Lieutenant-Governor said, “This is the opportunity before us, but only if we seize it. It is not years away; it is now.”
Well, not exactly now. Our opportunity comes on May 9.