After a whirlwind year that started with a come-from-behind election win, Premier Christy Clark sat down with me for the traditional year-end interview in her Victoria office. Excerpts from that discussion appear in this week’s Black Press print editions. Here is the full interview, including Clark’s comments on the lack of fall legislature sittings and her expectations for a referendum on Metro Vancouver transit financing.
TF: Premier, you surprised a few people this year. What surprised you the most about 2013?
PCC: I guess it was the disconnect between the pollsters and the pundits, and the public. I did have a sense all the time that the citizens were thinking something different in the run-up to the election campaign. I wondered, am I missing something here, or are they missing something? And I guess it turned out that it wasn’t me that was missing something.
TF: Now the election year has come and gone, will the B.C. legislature return to a more regular schedule of spring and fall sittings?
PCC: Well, there has never been a regular fall session for the last 12 years. It’s always been if required, and there will always be a spring session.
This was an unusual year, because we had an election in the middle of it, and then we had a summer session after that. We really needed some time to get out and consult with the public about what it is they wanted the spring session to look like. So consulting on liquor reform. Consulting on the water sustainability act. Consulting with people on the changes to BC Ferries. So there has really been a lot of public engagement that you really can’t do when ministers are in the legislature every day, talking to other politicians all day.
TF: The liquefied natural gas export project is going to use a lot of natural gas, especially in the early years. Will B.C.’s greenhouse gas reduction targets [20 per cent reduction by 2020, 80 per cent by 2050] have to be changed?
PCC: I don’t have a clear answer on that yet. We are working with the companies on exactly how we are going to structure their environmental commitments and costs, and their electricity costs versus using gas, the total royalty tax regime. We’re looking at that as one package.
However that turns out, though, this opportunity to export natural to Asia is the single biggest opportunity we have ever had as a province to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world. In shipping this to China, we are going to help them wean themselves off some of the dirtiest coal anybody’s burning anywhere in the world.
And it’s not as though China’s air stops at the borders of China. It comes here too.
TF: If B.C. is going to get credit somehow for displacing coal use in Asia, shouldn’t B.C.’s coal exports, even though it’s metallurgical coal, count in our greenhouse gas total as well?
PCC: To me it’s a question of, are we going to do good around the world or are we not. Are we going to pretend that the borders for greenhouse gas stop at the B.C. border?
We have an opportunity to do something really good for ourselves. I know that the academics and pundits are going to get all mired in competing sets of numbers and studies. For me, we have a chance to do good for the world, and we’re going to take it.
TF: On oil pipelines, your agreement in November with Alberta Premier Alison Redford involves B.C. supporting her effort for a national energy strategy. What do you see it doing in the future?
PCC: We agreed to work on it with them and the rest of the country. When the premiers met in Halifax and I said we have five conditions for heavy oil in British Columbia, and by the way, we’re not signing on to work on the national energy strategy until Alberta agrees to the five conditions, we lived up to that commitment.
Now that they have finally signed on, and I think it’s a good example of how if you stand firm you can get what you want, we signed onto the the national energy strategy.
The big idea that she’s trying to pursue with that is a strategy that will connect us east to west in energy. Energy grids are much better connected north to south than they are east to west. So she’s trying to pursue a pan-Canadian strategy for the exchange of energy, whether that’s hydroelectricity or natural gas or whatever it is.
We haven’t been intimately involved with it until recently, so we’ll see where it goes.
TF: There’s a perception out there, fuelled by the opposition, that you campaigned against oil pipelines and now you’re turning the tanker around, as it were, to be in support of them. What do you say to that?
PCC: It’s typical of the other guys to reinterpret and misquote. That’s what they do. They’re in opposition. What I said was, we have five conditions that must be met in order for heavy oil to be considered to go ahead in British Columbia. That has not changed.
The five conditions remain in place. As of today, none of them have been met. The only thing that is different today, from before the election, is that now I no longer stand alone in supporting the five conditions. I have one other premier supporting me, and that’s Alison Redford.
TF: The TransLink financing referendum was another hot topic during the election. It seems likely to fail, especially if it gives people the option to say no thanks. Will it be limited to choosing between funding sources?
PCC: The mayors and the transportation minister haven’t come to a conclusion about what it’s going to look like. My expectation, though, is generally that people will be able to choose amongst a number of options, one of which will be status quo. But it’s not going to be a yes or no option.
There will be a number of options, so it will mean that people will need to do a little bit of homework, thinking about what they’d like to pay for and how they’d like to pay for it, or whether or not they’d like to just keep the status quo. I trust citizens to be able to make good decisions if you provide them with all the facts.
I think this argument that if we make the mistake of asking the public, they will inevitably say no, is kind of insulting for people. I think we should take more opportunities to ask them and consult them.
The liquor review is a good example. I said during the election that we were going to be reviewing liquor, and this crazy, antiquated system we have that’s grown up over 100 years, and we went to the public, did a consultation. And 75 per cent of the feedback that we got was, figure out a way to put liquor in grocery stores.
I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t ask [Richmond Steveston MLA] John Yap to go into the liquor review with any expectation that that’s where we would end up. But we asked people and this is what they told us, and so we are going to find a way to act on that.
It’s a good example of why it’s not wise to assume what citizens are going to do before you ask them. I think May 14 was another good example of that.
TF: New union agreements are coming out in the public service, longer term agreements. Is this patterned after a profit sharing approach in the private sector?
PCC: Yes. We are trying to link the growth of public sector wages to the growth in the private sector. I think it’s the right thing to do, and I really am delighted that the leaders of the public sector unions in British Columbia have had the foresight to recognize that their members should have a stake in economic growth. That if the economy is growing, their member will do better.
I think that’s a great principle for all of us to work from. And until now, the growth of public sector wages has been completely insulated from changes in the private sector. And this is the first time we’ve ever been able to successfully link those two things. At this point it’s still a small increment wage growth, but it’s a big change, and I hope we can continue to build on it.