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Rich Coleman briefly speaks to media following a Caucus meeting at B.C. Legislative Building in Victoria, BC Monday March 4, 2013. (Chad Hipolito For The Globe and Mail)
Rich Coleman briefly speaks to media following a Caucus meeting at B.C. Legislative Building in Victoria, BC Monday March 4, 2013. (Chad Hipolito For The Globe and Mail)

'Minister of everything' Rich Coleman takes on B.C.'s biggest priorities Add to ...

Some have jokingly referred to him as “the minister of everything,” a nod to his record of holding important government portfolios, sometimes several at once.

In his new role as Minister of Natural Gas Development, Rich Coleman will be responsible for the province’s biggest priority: liquefied natural gas, the resource Premier Christy Clark has pitched as British Columbia’s ticket to a prosperous economy and a debt-free future.

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Ms. Clark’s LNG strategy – announced in February of last year and a mainstay of her recent election campaign – calls for three LNG plants to be running by 2020. Big players including Chevron, Shell and British Gas all have LNG projects at various stages of development in Northern B.C., with all of them wanting to ship LNG to customers in Asia.

The province has said that LNG projects are expected to produce $1-trillion in economic activity over the next 30 years.

But for those projects to become reality, a host of challenges must be resolved, including where the power would come from to run LNG terminals, which require substantial amounts of electricity. The province has said it will be home to the first LNG facilities in the world to use “clean” energy. But the current BC Hydro system does not have the capacity to supply three LNG facilities proposed to be running in 2020, let alone the half-dozen or so that proponents have suggested.

Mr. Coleman will face pressure to move quickly. Other jurisdictions, including Australia and the United States, are also eyeing the LNG market. There are more than a dozen LNG terminals on the books in the U.S. alone.

All of the proposals revolve around the same basic idea – shipping gas to coastal terminals via pipeline, cooling it and then shipping it on tankers to Asia.

B.C. is pitching LNG as a “climate solution,” because natural gas is cleaner than fuels it could replace, such as diesel or coal. Analysts have said B.C. faces tough competition from other, lower-cost jurisdictions.

Mr. Coleman was first elected in 1996 and was re-elected for a fifth term as MLA for Fort Langley-Aldergrove this year. His previous portfolios have included energy, housing and forests.

As the minister responsible for housing since 2005, Mr. Coleman has been a key player in the Provincial Homelessness Initiative, in which the province works with community groups, the federal government and non-profit agencies to build new housing.

As part of that initiative, B.C. has bought 26 single-room occupancy hotels. Thirteen of those, located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, are being renovated through a public-private partnership announced last year.

Mr. Coleman was also the driving force behind the 2008 plan to sell Vancouver’s Little Mountain – named for the social housing project the federal government built on the site in 1954 – and use the proceeds to build social housing elsewhere.

The project was controversial, with a handful of tenants refusing to move out and construction of new social housing taking longer than expected to begin. A deal to accommodate those tenants was reached last October and construction of new social housing on the Little Mountain site began in April, 2013.

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