B.C. Premier John Horgan will tour the province's northwest this weekend to promote jobs and energy, marking a new chapter for his fledgling government.
The weekend will be his first significant hard-hat-themed tour since taking office almost 100 days ago. At the Rio Tinto aluminum smelter in Kitimat, he'll take part in a community celebration of the first anniversary of the $6-billion modernization project. He'll then tour a potential liquefied natural gas project and visit the construction site of the AltaGas Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal.
As the government looks beyond its transition stage, Mr. Horgan is looking for ways to bring to life his economic strategy for the province.
Since the start of his minority NDP government in July, Mr. Horgan has been absorbed with executing a long "to-do" list, including electoral and campaign finance changes, which was dictated by the agreement between his party and the BC Greens that allowed the NDP to assume office.
At the same time, the new government has cast a shadow over billions of dollars worth of proposed construction, providing critics with an easy target to attack the NDP as "the party of No."
Since coming into power, the government has cancelled construction of a bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel, launched a legal challenge to block the Kinder Morgan oil-pipeline expansion project and initiated a review of the $9-billion Site C dam project. This week, the province put the salmon-farming industry on notice that tenures may not be renewed.
During the election campaign, the NDP spent little time in the North, targeting resources on picking up new seats in Metro Vancouver. Mr. Horgan will use this tour as an opportunity to talk about his commitment to support the province's traditional resource sector.
In an interview Thursday, Mr. Horgan noted that he has been involved in the Kitimat smelter file since the 1990s. The modernization project has reduced the number of jobs at the smelter, he said, but secured jobs for decades to come. It is the single-largest private-sector investment in B.C., and although he can't take credit for it, he can join in the celebrations.
The Premier has criticized the former BC Liberal government's all-in bid to establish an LNG industry in B.C., but he will tour the site that is regarded as the most viable major LNG project in the province – LNG Canada's proposed export terminal in Kitimat.
"That is still a play in progress and that's interesting," Mr. Horgan said. "There are many billions of dollars in potential investment."
As well, he'll visit the AltaGas propane export facility in the Port of Prince Rupert to draw attention to the port's successful expansion.
Mr. Horgan has had few opportunities to travel – or to don a hard hat – since taking office. The combined forces of the NDP and the Greens in the House still offers little leeway, and he has been in the House every day except for the Ottawa meeting of first ministers.
However, he said he will travel to Asia in January – China, South Korea and Japan – to promote the province's manufacturing, energy and high-tech sectors.
He said he has been accessible to the business community, taking pains to cultivate a relationship with investors and job creators who may fear an NDP government.
"One of the first things I did when it became apparent the [Liberal] government was going to fall, I called up business leaders and asked them for advice," he said.
That outreach, organized with the assistance of billionaire business magnate Jimmy Pattison, led to meetings between Mr. Horgan and 60 top bankers and industry leaders.
"It was an opportunity for them to kick the tires and get a sense of me," he said. "My vision for B.C. is not unique, it's been consistent through most governments for the past 50 years: How can we continue the prosperity that British Columbians expect, in a way that is sustainable for the long term?"
For his government, he said, "that means diversifying our markets for the products we produce, it also means making sure that our work force is trained and can live here. Those are my goals, those are the aspirations of British Columbians and I hope they come together."
The NDP brought in a budget update in September that included tax hikes for the wealthy and higher corporate income taxes. But Mr. Horgan will be meeting with the Business Council of B.C. later this fall and will emphasize that his government also brought in business-friendly budget initiatives, including a long-sought cut to taxes on electricity for industry.