Premier John Horgan and BC Green leader Andrew Weaver will chat by telephone on Tuesday in a bid to head off a brewing conflict over liquefied natural gas that threatens to send British Columbians back to the polls this year.
Mr. Weaver, whose Green caucus holds the balance of power in the B.C. legislature, says he and his fellow Green MLAs are prepared to bring down the NDP government if the New Democrats breathe a positive word about developing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry in the Speech from the Throne three weeks from now.
Mr. Horgan is on a trade mission to Asia – he will call Mr. Weaver from abroad – that is aimed in part at drumming up support for LNG development. Mr. Horgan says he intends to meet with potential LNG investors during his visit to China, South Korea and Japan this week, to tell them that his government supports such an industry – under certain conditions.
But Mr. Weaver maintained in an interview on Monday that this would breach the Confidence and Supply Agreement – often referred to as CASA – the two parties signed last summer to allow the NDP to form a minority government.
Although the NDP campaigned in the past election on a promise to pursue LNG investment so long as it meets the party's conditions, Mr. Weaver said he was blindsided by the Premier's plans to court investors.
"Mr. Horgan has got to stop being a cheerleader for LNG," he said.
Mr. Weaver said the CASA includes a commitment to a climate action plan and, based on his 30 years of work as a climate scientist, he is convinced B.C. cannot launch an LNG industry and meet its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"You can't have LNG and meet the targets. … This is that sword I would die on."
The Green Leader acknowledged that a snap election would derail his party's efforts to seek changes to the province's electoral system – which was a key demand in its negotiations with the NDP to support a minority government.
"I didn't get into politics to change the voting system," he said. "I got into politics because I saw innovative, leading climate policies being dismantled and I believed the BC NDP were serious about climate action."
The Pembina Institute has calculated that the production of LNG in B.C. would make it "virtually impossible" for the province to meet its climate targets. The institute, which provides policy research on climate change, calculated that the greenhouse gas (GHG) output of just two LNG facilities, even using the best practices, would require drastic action to reduce emissions from the rest of the economy, including transportation, buildings and industry.
Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada and co-chair of the NDP government's new Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, said it is possible to allow some LNG development while meeting the targets to reduce emissions.
"Based on modelling we have commissioned, it's possible," she said on Monday. "But it depends on how clean the LNG facility is, how the gas is produced, and what we do in other sectors – like how much we electrify our cars, buses, trucks and industry, and improve energy efficiency in our homes and buildings."
Mr. Weaver said nothing the Premier can say would convince him LNG and climate action can be compatible. "He can't spin me," he said. "We are at a critical point in human history, and we have to make the hard choices not to expand the fossil fuel industry."
If the Premier can't assuage Mr. Weaver's concerns, it would still be some time before the Greens could force a vote to test whether the NDP can command a majority of votes in the Legislature – a requirement for governing.
The Feb. 13 Throne Speech would provide the first opportunity to vote against the NDP, but under the rules of the House, the New Democrats could forestall the vote for weeks.
Still, the Greens and the opposition Liberals could effect a vote of non-confidence in this coming session, which could trigger a provincial election just a year after the last one.
The Liberals elect a new leader on Feb. 3, and an early election could force the party to prepare for a trip to the polls with an untested leader.