Seizing on economic opportunities and securing the future of British Columbian families were key issues of last week’s throne speech, said Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett during a speech in the legislature Wednesday.
“One of the main themes was the economic opportunity that presents itself to the province at the present time, and the chance to create a legacy that will benefit our children and grandchildren through the Prosperity Fund.”
Paying down the provincial debt will save the province $2.5 billion a year, money that can be reinvested in the economic development of B.C., including its rural area, she added.
“In my riding of Cariboo-Chilcotin there is another Prosperity project, and it also offers the promise of a lasting legacy that can benefit all the surrounding communities now and for future generations,” Barnett said, suggesting the New Prosperity Mine would bring strong and far-reaching economic benefits to the region.
While she finds herself disappointed to see a project that could have such a positive economic impact in our region held up, she said she is even more disappointed to see the political posturing of the opposition around the issue.
“A project such as the Prosperity Mine, which can help revitalize the economy of our entire region, should not be held hostage by what is politically convenient.”
Prosperity would create 500 full-time jobs, over 1,200 indirect jobs, and would spend $200 million every year during the 22-year anticipated lifespan of the mine, she added.
“That is why it disappoints me to see the NDP opposing this beneficial project, which could have such a positive economic impact on our region. The NDP remains opposed, both literally and figuratively, to Prosperity.”
Barnett also said the needs of rural B.C. are diverse, and that the Cariboo-Chilcotin relies on several key industries in addition to mining, including forestry, agriculture and tourism.
“Our forest industry is alive and well, despite the damage caused by the pine beetle infestation. We are working with business groups and with First Nations to ensure that our forest policies are both economically and environmentally sustainable.”
Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson said the gut of the throne speech was LNG in 2017.
“The promise of this prosperity fund isn’t for this election. It’s for the next election cycle and projected for the following 30 years.”
Simpson acknowledged he has long been a proponent of a “heritage-like” fund, similar to what already exists in Alberta.
“The principle is not wrong where you take the wealth that you get from your natural resources, put a surcharge on that wealth that you’re generating, and you put it in a fund that goes beyond the one year fiscal cycle.”
In a natural resource boom and bust economy, the biggest problem is that in the bust cycle government has to tighten its belt on health care, education and social services.
“In the boom times money needs to be put in a rainy day fund for use in the down cycle to continue to fund an appropriate level of those things. It levels out the social services and the government’s ability to manage the public purse.”
A “rainy day” concept is long overdue for B.C., however, it becomes problematic when it’s being all pinned on LNG because every piece of information suggests that LNG is not a given or that in B.C. that the industry will get prices that make it work, Simpson said.
“Alberta today, with its heritage fund with the richest oil and gas resources, is talking about for the first time ever instituting a sales tax and we have a premier saying we can get rid of the sales tax with the same resources.”
He applauded the premier addressing rural health care delivery and preventative health care, but said he felt there were no details in the speech.
Worried that there will be three weeks in the legislature to deal with eight or nine substantive bills, Simpson suggested if the premier was serious about introducing the Seniors Advocate position, there should have been a fall sitting.
“It was the first government speech that I’ve sat in that the Liberal members of government did not applaud during or at the end. It’s supposed to be the government’s main priorities over the next year, but it was talking about 2017.”