B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan met with his toughest critics on the party's liquefied natural gas policies, and said his party's official rejection of the Pacific Northwest LNG proposal could yet turn to Yes.
Mr. Horgan was speaking to the annual convention of the BC Building Trade unions in Victoria on Wednesday, where he sought to diffuse anger from his party's labour allies over his decision to ask the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to withhold approval for the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG plant near Prince Rupert.
The NDP Leader apologized to union leader Tom Sigurdson for sending the submission to the regulatory agency without giving him notice that the party had come out against the proposal. The party had concluded that plans for an $11.4-billion terminal on Lelu Island would generate an unacceptable increase in the province's greenhouse gas emissions and threaten the important Skeena River salmon runs.
Later, speaking to reporters, Mr. Horgan suggested the federal government could attach conditions to the project to satisfy his concerns.
"If we are going to proceed with it, we are going to have find other ways to reduce our emissions," he said. "We'll see what their conditions are and we'll go from there."
The project, as the NDP noted in their March 10 letter to the federal agency, would increase the province's entire carbon footprint – for industry, transport and residential activity combined – by 8.5 per cent. "The proposal … fails to meet the condition of air, land and water protection, with respect to both the threat to marine habitat and species as well as to climate through unacceptable high and inadequately regulated greenhouse gas emissions," the letter stated.
Mr. Horgan said Wednesday that an aggressive investment in public transit could offset the LNG plant's GHG emissions. "So it's a holistic thing, it's not a project-by-project issue. That's the discussion I had with Tom."
Mr. Sigurdson gave the NDP Leader a hug on the stage, and acknowledged he had been one of the first people who encouraged Mr. Horgan to run for the leadership of the NDP. But he said his 40,000 members will be watching the party for a jobs plan as it develops its next election platform.
The building trade unions, under Mr. Sigurdson, have been outspoken in criticizing the B.C. NDP for failing to support major construction projects including the Pacific Northwest LNG proposal – worth a total of $36-billion when the upstream commitments are included, and the $9-billion Site C dam.
To take the sting out of those positions, Mr. Horgan told the convention that he would, if his party wins the 2017 election, ensure trade unions are engaged on public-sector projects.
"When we form the government 12 months from now, we will build British Columbia, we will build roads, we will build transit in the lower mainland and we will do it with you and your members," he said to applause.
He also stepped up his criticism of the Leap Manifesto, the proposal to wean Canada off fossil fuels by 2050. The federal NDP is launching a lengthy study of the plan, which would also stop all new infrastructure projects aimed at increasing extraction of non-renewable resources. However, Mr. Horgan said the B.C. wing of the party will not touch it. "I have no intention of building a platform in the next election that has any correlation whatsoever to a process that will alienate workers or alienate resources."
But he also pleaded for understanding from the union delegates, saying it is the official opposition's job to criticize efforts of the government party. "I'm sick and tired of being the negative nelly," he said.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Sigurdson said he is still waiting to hear which projects the B.C. NDP will endorse.
"Leading up to the election period, they have got to get to Yes. I don't know how they are going to get there but we're going to be watching," he said.
Asked if he thinks the NDP can come around to support the Pacific Northwest LNG proposal, Mr. Sigurdson said that is a challenge for Mr. Horgan to sort out. "That is up to them to find their way to pivot on this."