For Premier Christy Clark, the big take-away from the recent federal campaign was not the promise-heavy Liberal Party of Canada election platform but rather the winning tone of party leader Justin Trudeau.
“I think what people voted for in the federal election was optimism,” said Clark in an interview in her Victoria office Wednesday. “They wanted, as the prime minister said, a sunny vision of the future. “
Clark, no slouch in the optimism department herself, has already had some positive face time with Prime Minister Trudeau and came away confident that he’ll tackle her first priority of renewing the recently expired softwood lumber agreement with the U.S.
“There’s been very enthusiastic support from him on that,” the premier told me and my colleague Rob Shaw. “So I think if there’s a chance of getting the deal we may get it, I hope, in the next — fingers crossed — the next few months.”
Not to say she saw eye to eye with the new prime minister on everything. I asked what was Trudeau’s reaction when she balked at supporting his plan to improve Senate appointments, her view being that the institution lacks democratic legitimacy and fair representation for B.C.
“He reminded me that when he met all the premiers, he’d said we’re going to work really hard to work together but there will be things on which we disagree and he accepted that this was something we were going to disagree on.”
Talk turned to Site C and the lobbying by some native leaders and environmentalists for Ottawa to put a halt to the project before construction proceeds any further.
“It hasn’t come up with them,” said Clark, meaning with the federal Liberals. But she doubts the new national government would cancel a project to provide “clean energy” to British Columbians at a time when the country is trying to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
She went on to suggest that B.C. could play a role in helping Alberta to ween itself off coal-fired generation via an expanded interprovincial electricity grid.
“Even with our existing network, we have enough power to help Alberta get off their coal — 97.9 per cent of our electricity is clean and renewable,” said the premier. “If we expand our capacity for clean power it only expands our ability to be able to support that.”
Clark said the province has already talked to the federal government “about how do we improve transmission between B.C. and Alberta in the immediate term to help them get off coal.”
Speaking of Alberta, Clark was asked for her take on competing versions of the carbon tax. Here, where the rate is frozen at $30 per metric tonne of greenhouse gas emissions, the money raised by the tax is offset by cuts in other taxes. There, where the tax is scheduled to reach the B.C. level in 2018, the New Democratic Party government will instead spend the proceeds on transit, other green projects and direct relief to low-income individuals and affected industries.
“The only way you’d ever see any carbon tax increase in B.C. would be if it truly was revenue neutral,” said Clark, who is facing calls from her own climate leadership team to start increasing the tax once the current freeze expires in 2018. “I am not a believer that the carbon tax should be an additional burden on the economy. Whatever you spend it on doesn’t matter — the point is you’re taking more tax from people, which slows economic growth. It kills jobs. “Might the next B.C. election be fought on rival visions of the carbon tax, with the B.C. Liberals sticking to the revenue-neutral model while B.C. New Democrats tout the tax-and-spend model put forward by their Alberta counterparts?
“If it was, that’s a pretty good campaign to be able to run on,” she replied. “For us to say we want lower taxes and the Opposition to say they want higher taxes is not a bad start to an election campaign.”
In terms of an overall ballot box question for 2017, Clark thinks it might be similar to the one from the last campaign.
“What is government going to do to make sure people have jobs, that they are well paying jobs, that they can get the education they need to get the best possible job that they can?” said the premier, returning to optimism theme quoted above. “I think people vote based on who they see is going to offer some hope for a better future for their family.”
But with the election still a year-and-a-half away, Clark says she’s waiting for NDP leader John Horgan to define his position on jobs and growth, something he has only started to do in recent weeks.
Her point being: “We can’t fix some of the social problems we have if we don’t have the money to do it. And the only way we’ll have the money to do that is if we focus on growing the economy, and creating jobs for people.”
On that score, the premier dropped a hint about something coming next week. Clark herself is scheduled to preside over the release Tuesday of an interim report from Bob Plecas, the retired civil servant brought in to review the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
“We are in really good fiscal shape,” Clark said, referring to a budget that is balanced on the operating side.
“If Bob Plecas tells us we need to put more resources into the ministry, we are in a position to be able to say we can answer that request positively,” she continued, leaving no doubt that an injection of money and other resources is in the works for the troubled ministry.