Two weeks after taking office, B.C. Premier John Horgan's NDP government cancelled an international conference on liquefied natural gas that had been planned for the fall of 2017, internal e-mails show, a sign of waning interest in LNG in British Columbia.
Only a handful of LNG proposals in B.C. remain active today, down sharply from more than 20 in 2014. So far, despite much hype from the previous Liberal government under Christy Clark, no B.C. project is under construction to export the fuel to Asia.
While the BC Liberals were widely seen as LNG cheerleaders, the NDP emphasizes that projects must meet conditions, such as working in partnership with Indigenous groups and respecting the province's commitments to fighting climate change – difficult goals to attain, industry experts say.
Early last summer, a representative for an LNG project in Prince Rupert asked event organizers whether the conference in Vancouver would be forging ahead in November. "I am contacting you on behalf of WCC LNG, led by Exxon Mobil," Rachel Chapman wrote on June 21, using the event's website to send her query.
One of the organizers, Jordan Humphries, general manager at Pace Group Communications, forwarded the inquiry to Sue Roe, senior outreach officer for the province's LNG Task Force under B.C.'s Energy Ministry.
"Could you please respond to Rachel to let her know we are waiting on directions from the new B.C. government and will provide more information as soon as possible," Ms. Roe said in an e-mail to Mr. Humphries on July 17 – the day before Mr. Horgan's swearing-in ceremony in Victoria.
Ms. Roe informed Mr. Humphries on Aug. 1 about the demise of the planned LNG gathering. "I have just been advised that the 2017 LNG in BC Conference has been cancelled," she wrote. "Could you please arrange to have the registration page taken down immediately?"
The B.C. government posted the correspondence on its Open Information website last week, after a Freedom of Information request from a researcher.
Ms. Clark's BC Liberals clung to power for most of June, but were ousted on June 29, losing a confidence vote in the provincial legislature.
Between June 29 and late July, there were signs of uncertainty about what to do about hotel reservations. For instance, two hotels contacted several B.C. delegates to inquire whether they wished to keep their reservations in November because the hotels noticed conference organizers had released a large block of rooms previously booked, according to the e-mails.
Civic representatives from communities such as Kitimat, Terrace and Dawson Creek wanted to know in July if the NDP could provide a status update about the LNG gathering because they had booked flights and hotel rooms.
Numerous delegates and exhibitors wrote to event organizers in late June and in July to inquire about the Nov. 28-30 conference.
On Aug. 2, B.C.'s Energy Ministry began e-mailing delegates about the minority NDP government's decision to cancel the LNG conference: "Good afternoon. With the recent change in government there was simply not enough time to deliver an event of this size. Sincerely, The LNG Task Force."
On Aug. 3, the ministry notified exhibitors about the decision to scrap the gathering: "Hello, The 2017 LNG in BC conference has been cancelled. We would like to thank you for your interest in the event and we are looking forward to working with you again in the future."
Mr. Horgan, who became Premier on July 18, formed a political alliance in late May with BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver. That move later resulted in the ousting of the BC Liberals, who had won a majority government in 2013, fuelled by campaign promises of LNG riches.
The Globe and Mail reported last August that the NDP axed the conference and in a statement at that time, B.C.'s Energy Ministry distanced the new government from the decision, pointing to a "process" that the NDP said the BC Liberals started: "Cancellation of the LNG conference, originally scheduled for this November, was initiated on June 13. The process started before the new government was in a position to determine the conference's future."
E-mails show that in late July, no final decision had been made yet on the fate of the LNG event. Pace Group told Samantha Preston of industrial firm Spartan Controls on July 28 that "the new incoming government will need to make that decision. We would be happy to let you know once the decision has been made."
Spartan Controls had sought opportunities to be a sponsor and exhibitor. "If you could keep me posted, that would be much appreciated," Ms. Preston said in her same-day reply to Pace Group.
B.C.'s Energy Ministry responded on Aug. 3: "Hi Samantha, To follow up with you, I can confirm the 2017 LNG in BC Conference is cancelled."