VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark takes questions about her eventful first year back in politics. Here is a full transcript of that discussion, which appears in edited form Black Press publications this week:
TF: First, my favourite subject, aboriginal relations. Statements you made about focusing on interim resource agreements were interpreted as a step back from the treaty process. Can you follow up on that?
PCC: I think that was a misinterpretation, because for me the interim agreements are the building blocks of the treaty process. That’s the long-term goal. That’s where we all want to get to, or at least most of us, so we can have certainty on the land base. But until we get there, I’m just not a believer that we should be holding back on other kinds of economic development that will spur the creation of jobs for First Nations.
Because when we enable economic development for First Nations, it has a big impact on the community around them. And it also, I think, allows First Nations to see the benefits of starting to get engaged in the economy in a broader way. And I think that’s why it helps us get to treaty.
TF: People in general are a bit cynical about the treaty process. You could say that about the current Sophie Pierre. [former Ktunaxa chief and chair of the independent B.C. Treaty Commission]. In her report this year she talked about the mounting debt from 20 years of negotiations and basically gave an ultimatum to fix it or shut it down. Do you see the commission continuing as it is, or do you see some changes ahead?
PCC: We’re not planning any significant changes to it. We are starting to see, just now, the fruits of all the work from the ministry and from the government and from the treaty commission. And that’s all starting to move pretty quickly. The Taku River Tlinglit economic agreement [mining development and protected areas in the Atlin area], there are a number of these agreements that are starting to flow out, and it’s been a long, slow, frustrating process. And people are looking at it, quite legitimately, saying what the heck is taking so long. But we’re now right at that stage where we’re starting to see these things come out the other end of the pipe. So now is the wrong time to walk away from the process, because there’s been 20 years of work invested in this, and we’re finally starting to see the fruits of it.
TF: A related subject is something you were talking about in Edmonton [Dec. 13 meeting with Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall], the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline. There’s a lot of aboriginal opposition to that. The federal Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, not too long ago called this a “nation building project.” It certainly fits with your jobs strategy. Do you support the concept of the pipeline?
PCC: First of all, we are foursquare behind the concept and soon to be reality of the liquefied natural gas pipelines, which would take B.C. gas and get it to the port at Kitimat. There is pretty much unanimous First Nations support along the way, community support, through the environmental approval process, it’s all working.
The Enbridge proposal is far from that. So I recognize that it is a benefit to Canada, there’s no question about it. Being able to get triple the price for Canadian oil would be a big benefit for Canada overall. But the project is one where we have to examine both the costs and benefits. And I don’t think we have a good bead on what the benefits or the costs could potentially be. That’s why it’s in the environmental approval process. This is the first of its kind, so I think we have to get a good look at it, and once we have the facts before us, we can have a debate about whether it should go ahead.
TF: It sounds like there may have been a lesson learned from your advocacy of the Prosperity gold mine near Williams Lake. Maybe there’s a time to push for things and a time not to. Is that fair to say?
PCC: I think they are very different. In the case of the Prosperity mine, the company and the First Nations are at odds. And government has been working hard to try to help them find a way to make the project work for both communities, recognizing that a mine project of that size could have tremendous benefits for First Nations and non-First Nations in a region that has been devastated by the pine beetle.
But the Enbridge pipeline is a different proposal. British Columbians need to understand that there are big benefits for our province, which I think we’re still waiting to hear about, and that all of the potential costs of it would be managed.
On the Prosperity mine, the issue for me at the beginning was that it took 17 years for it to get in and out of the [federal and provincial] environmental approval process. That’s ridiculous. Say yes, say no, don’t take 17 years and then say both.
So I think the lesson to be learned in that is that we do need one project, one process for environmental approvals.
TF: Something the pipeline and mine project have in common, I was just given some information about one of these U.S. charitable foundations specifically targeting a grant to an organization to oppose the Prosperity mine. There’s a stack of them, U.S. money coming in large amounts to organize aboriginal people against the oil pipeline. Are you concerned about that, do you think this opposition is really grassroots, or that there really is influence from the U.S.?
PCC: I don’t think Canadians welcome American-style politics. And so whether it’s American politicians or American interest groups, they all to American-style politics. And I don’t think anyone wants to welcome that in British Columbia. And I think for First Nations communities, what we are seeing increasingly are examples of tremendous success, when First Nations are a recognized and legitimate partner in economic development.
Ellis Ross, who’s the Chief Councillor of the Haisla, says ‘We’re going to have too many jobs. That’s going to be our biggest problem up here as a result of the LNG project.’ They found a way to be a partner in that economic development, and so for First Nations around the province who are seeing this tremendous success, I just don’t think those American environmental groups are going to have much luck with those folks. Because they understand that they have a really big stake in economic development. And this idea that foreigners should come into Canada and try to stop economic development when they aren’t going to be the losers or the winners on either end of it, I don’t think Canadians want that. Let’s make our own decisions for heaven’s sake.
TF: The carbon tax. Do you think it’s working, and will we see changes or targeted funding out of that in the years to come?
PCC: Do I think it’s working? I think that it’s probably affecting people’s and businesses’ decisions about their reliance on carbon as a source of energy. I don’t want to overstate that, though. The thing about the carbon tax is that it’s hard to know how much difference it’s made. But I think anecdotally we see that it has made some difference.
Will we start targeting it to other initiatives, is that what you mean?
TF: Moving away from the revenue neutral model where it’s offset by income taxes. The NDP has talked about using carbon tax revenue to fund transit lines and things like that.
PCC: That’s just one of the tax increases the NDP is talking about, along with all those tax increases on the rich. What is that, everybody who earns $60,000 or more, all those rich people?
TF: I have that question down for Adrian Dix.
PCC: We are in the process now of consulting with both the job creator community and citizens about where they’d like us to go next with the carbon tax. We have to keep in mind that the economy is fragile. We are competing in an international environment that has gone south really fast. And so those are things that we need to keep in mind. But we want to remain a leader on the environment, which where we are right now in North America. I suspect that we will remain so for quite a while given where we see the rest of the economies in the world going.
TF: My list wouldn’t be complete without the HST. You were quoted recently from Ottawa, putting the argument to the federal government that since the HST is going to be in effect for a couple of years, maybe B.C. should get a break on paying back the $1.6 billion transition fund. Did you make that argument, and do you think it’s going to work?
PCC: [Finance Minister] Kevin Falcon and I have made a lot of different arguments, which are really proposals about how we could deal with it. So we’ve put a whole lot of ideas on the table, including those ones for the federal government to consider in dealing with the HST repayment. I recognize we have a legal obligation to repay it. That is the obligation the government undertook. And it’s an obligation that British Columbians recognized we would have to meet if they voted the HST out of existence.
But I’m still trying to get the best deal on it that we can. I’m still trying to see if we can negotiate a better deal for British Columbians. I think people expect me to do that, and that’s what I’m trying to do. Kevin Falcon and I are calling on every minister in the federal government who may have an interest in this, including for him the finance minister and me the prime minister, to make our case for why we should get a break.
And here’s the thing. Right now the three bright lights in Canada’s economy are Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. Canada needs us. Canada needs British Columbia to continue to be financially stable and creating jobs, because we are contributing to confederation, rather than taking at the moment.
So part of my argument to my federal government is, look, give us the tools that we need to keep our economy going, to keep creating jobs in the province. Because if you don’t, we won’t be able to keep sharing our prosperity with the rest of the country. And that’s part of the HST argument as well. I hope we can get a break on it, because it would sure help us do a good job in protecting our economy.
The last time we were a have-not province, when Adrian Dix was sitting in this office, we were a little black hole in a North American economy that was thriving. Now, there are only three bright spots in amongst 50 or 60 black holes. And we are one of them. So the country needs us more this time around.
TF: My last one, and this as close as I will get to a personal question. Is the job tougher than you thought it was going to be?
PCC: You know, it’s like having kids in lots of ways. You know it’s going to be tough, and then you have the kids and every day you go, wow, this is harder than I thought. It’s a little bit like that. I knew it was going to be tough, and I knew there would be a lot of surprises that were not of my making. Nonetheless, when they come they’re still surprises. [Laughs.] But it’s still my responsibility to fix them, and I’m working on it.