B.C. Provincial Election Results – What Does It Mean For The Environment?

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For the first time since 1996, the NDP has a majority government of 57 seats, while the Liberals will have 28 seats and the Greens are left with two seats. In 2017, the B.C. Liberals were just behind the NDP at 43 to 44 seats, forcing the NDP to count on the support of the Greens to govern. The Greens negotiated a confidence and supply agreement with the NDP, including several commitments to climate policy. The NDP saw a political opportunity during the pandemic, and broke their agreement with the Green party by calling a snap election. While the Greens still attained two seats, the NDP will no longer need their support as they did previously, resulting in a large loss of influence for the Greens. Read on to see what this will mean for environment and climate issues in the province.

CleanBC Climate Plan

The NDP has committed to enacting legislation requiring B.C. to have net-zero emissions by 2050. This means any greenhouse gas emissions must be offset by carbon sinks, carbon capture storage or technology. To reach the goal, the NDP has promised they will invest in B.C. entrepreneurs working on carbon capture technology, use incentives to spur energy efficiency building retrofits, make investments to help mines, pulp mills, oil and gas plants and other industrial operations reduce their carbon and methane emissions. They have also re-committed to reviewing oil and gas subsidies, which the Greens want to see gone.

The NDP wants to make B.C. a global producer of low-carbon products and services. To get there, they’ve committed to investing in high-speed internet across the province, supporting innovative clusters that bring companies, researchers and entrepreneurs together and working with BC Hydro to expand electrification infrastructure.

Despite the new CleanBC Plan, the NDP have failed to make some significant changes in their last term. Since being elected in 2017, the Horgan government has increased subsidies to oil and gas companies by 79 per cent over Christy Clark’s government. The 2020 BC NDP platform offers a similar, narrower, promise of “a comprehensive review of oil and natural gas royalty credits” from an “environmental lens.” It will be impossible to meet our emissions goals when these acts are still continuing. We must keep the NDP government accountable to their climate goals.

LNG 

Horgan has promised to monitor LNG Canada to ensure it falls within B.C.’s climate targets, but when the project begins it will be one of the country’s single largest sources of carbon pollution. Experts have questioned whether the LNG industry is in line with the province’s climate plans, including a recent report which found B.C. could exceed its 2050 target by 227 per cent if it continues with all LNG projects.

recent peer-reviewed study found methane emissions from B.C.’s oil and gas industry are two-and-a-half times higher than reported. Recently, physicians in northeast B.C. spoke up about a wave of health impacts they’re seeing alongside a substantial increase in fracking near Dawson Creek. Despite these concerns, the province excluded human health impacts from the purview of the scientific panel tasked with reviewing fracking.

Site C Dam

When the NDP were elected in 2017, Horgan sent Site C for a review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, but ultimately decided to go ahead with the project, adding to its budget by $2 billion. The review revealed some severe geotechnical problems with the Dam, and the NDP paused the project while waiting for a new independent report (still pending) by former deputy finance minister, Peter Milburn: “If the science tells us and economics tells us that it’s the wrong way to proceed, we will take appropriate action,” Horgan said during a leaders’ radio debate. Horgan also refused to fully commit to cancelling the project if experts determine that it should not go ahead.

Profound geotechnical problems related to the dam’s faulty foundation, mean BC Hydro does not know how much it will cost to complete the publicly funded project, which is already billions of dollars over budget, or when it might be finished. A recent report from a U.S. energy economist found BC Hydro customers will save an initial $116 million a year if the B.C. government cancels construction of the Site C dam and the savings will only grow over time. Site C should be scrapped to allow for a massive investment into affordable and sustainable alternative energy.

BC Forests, Endangered Species, and Logging

In 2017, the NDP promised to enact a law to protect species at risk in B.C., but have not renewed the promise in this election, and instead only included a vague promise to develop “new strategies” that would better protect wildlife.

There had been little action to defer logging from old-growth forests, and the government plans to allow logging in endangered caribou habitat and in habitat where a pair of previously-thought-to-be-extinct spotted owls were found. There is a critically low amount of old growth forests left in BC, especially on Vancouver Island where less than 900,000 hectares is left. We need to support their full protection, not continue with more studies and incremental promises.

The NDP platform prior to the last provincial election noted the “unprecedented” number of raw logs that were being exported. They vowed: “We will work with BC’s forest industry to find fair and lasting solutions that keep more logs in BC for processing. Doug Donaldson said Victoria will punitively increase the surcharge it puts on logs for export. The province has put in a small measure that it expects will curb log exports from B.C. ‘s coast by about 15 per cent over the next couple of years.

While all this logging continues, natural predators like wolves continue to be scapegoated as the cause of endangered caribou decline. In doing this, the NDP government is planning to continue aerial wolf slaughter throughout regions of central B.C. in the winter of 2021. Learn more about our fight against this issue at https://pacificwild.org/were-taking-the-bc-government-to-court/

The NDP are vowing to work with neighbouring jurisdictions to protect shared wildlife corridors, to protect more old growth forests, to create a watershed security strategy and to ensure that industry pays the full cost of environmental clean-up. We will be watching closely and pressuring the government to take action on these promises.

B.C Salmon and Coastal Habitat

The NDP have pledged to work to double funding for the B.C. Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, and to develop plans to protect wild salmon. During the recent election, Horgan said that if the salmon farming industry doesn’t have support from local communities by 2022, he would look to phase out the farms on the Broughton Archipelago – an important migratory route for wild salmon. However, salmon across our coast are experiencing some of their worst returns in history. A large coalition of First Nations and community groups recently came forward declaring a strong opposition to the farms. The science supports removing salmon farms from B.C. waters and a coordinated effort between federal and provincial governments to remove them should be undertaken immediately. Read more about the importance of wild salmon protection https://pacificwild.org/campaign/protect-wild-salmon/.

The NDP also promised to develop a new strategy to protect coastal habitat, specifically committing to look at freighter traffic management in southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. A bill was recently introduced by MP Alister MacGregor to prohibit the anchoring of freighter vessels in coastal waters along the Southern Strait of Georgia, and the NDP says they will establish a 5-point plan to help this issue. Learn more about why tanker traffic is a problem https://pacificwild.org/campaign/stop-tankers-on-the-north-and-central-coast/.

Mining Regulations

The NDP has said they are committed to creating a mining innovation hub to support training, better regulations, environmental management and low-carbon approaches to mining. They  also claim to hold mining companies accountable for clean-up on abandoned projects. The First Nations Energy and Mining Council said recent reforms to B.C.’s mining laws need improvement in areas, including updates to safety requirements. Mining companies are required to pay the province money up front to cover the costs of reclamation and closure in case they go bankrupt. But according to a 2018 report, the province is running a deficit of about $1.2 billion to cover reclamation costs.

In 2019, the NDP Government introduced Bill 41 – Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act , which passed First Reading on the same day. The BC NDP’s commitment to adopting UNDRIP was a focus of its 2017 election campaign and formed a foundational piece of its agreement with the Green Party. However, this bill only meant that judges may refer to UNDRIP for background in interpreting Canadian law, but it does not overrule or replace existing law. After the bill passed, three major projects came under attack from a UN agency on FPIC grounds: the Site-C project, the Coastal GasLink pipeline, and the TMX oil-pipeline expansion. The BC government has opposed TMX, but the other two projects are supported by the NDP government, and are major parts of the province’s economic plans for the future.

BC politicians have claimed to fully embrace UNDRIP, even though most of them are aware that “free, prior, and informed consent,” which is a large part of UNDRIP, cannot be implemented in Canada without causing economic devastation. Thus they introduce legislation about working towards implementation of UNDRIP, carefully choosing language they believe does not actually change the law in Canada. We will continue to hold the government accountable to UNDRIP legislation, pushing them to halt unsustainable projects.

Transportation 

The NDP has promised new incentives for both new and used zero-emission vehicles to make them more accessible to people with lower incomes and to increase the number of vehicle charging stations with legislation. They’re also pledging to cut the provincial sales tax on e-bikes. This is similar to what the Greens promised, without requiring all new non-commercial vehicles sold in B.C. to be zero-emission by 2035.

What This Means Moving Forward

As we await Premier Horgan’s announcement of his cabinet appointments, Pacific Wild is re-committing to continue our work of holding our NDP- majority government to account on their campaign promises and pushing them to do better in protecting wildlife and their habitats in the Great Bear Rainforest and beyond. As soon as cabinet ministers are appointed, we will be getting in touch to let them know that Pacific WIld represents a powerful, grassroots, activist voice on all things environment, and that relevant ministers can expect to hear from us and our supporters on a somewhat regular basis.  We will push our political leaders to do their research and due diligence, adapt a precautionary approach in decision making and uphold the BC Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by working in true collaboration with Indigenous leaders, the rightful stewards of the lands and waters we are so fortunate to call home.