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B.C. close to betting the farm

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There really is no polite way to say this: The energy and jobs policy of the provincial government is in a mess.
Further, the government's stated strategies for the development of natural resources and increasing employment have been short on details when presented to the electorate.
The quicker the premier recognizes this, levels with the public and states the conditions under which her government will develop a new integrated policy, the better. Prompt action is needed to forestall potential damage to the province's environment and its fiscal position.
B.C. is now close to "betting the farm" by putting our faith in developing the exportation of LNG and building a new dam at Site C on the Peace River.
By "betting the farm," I mean we are contemplating commitment to a program of expenditures that could virtually bankrupt the province should they fail to generate either the employment or tax revenues the government is forecasting.
While our reserves of natural gas are impressive, the risks involved in developing the export play are significant.
First, there is the enormous cost of constructing the pipelines that will transverse on the way to tidewater some of the most difficult terrain and hostile climatic conditions in the world. And building those pipelines assumes agreement on the part of the First Nations whose traditional territories the pipeline will cross. Such approval is by no means assured.
Then, the production of liquified natural gas itself will consume substantial amounts of energy. This will be produced either by onsite natural-gas-fueled turbines, thereby adding to the province's production of greenhouse gases, or from power generated by developing Site C at a cost of $8 billion or more.
Most daunting of all, however, is the intense competition that B.C.-produced LNG will face in the marketplace.
There are many studies projecting worldwide abundance of supply by 2020, the earliest date for the completion of B.C. production facilities. By then, others will have already established trading relations in Asian markets and competition will undoubtedly lead to price reductions, thereby reducing the potential profitability of projects here.
The government's policies with respect to both energy and jobs have been adopted without considering all the options and are unreasonably constrained by arbitrary policy positions taken by the previous government.
Three examples spring to mind: first, the objective of being energy self-sufficient (why should this be a goal of government policy?), the banning of nuclear energy, including small-scale thorium liquid salt reactors (why ban a safe, non-polluting technology?) and the push to build the dam at Site C.
On this last point, we have not asked the critical question: Is this the best way to spend $8 billion of borrowed funds?
What is needed is a comprehensive policy review, an honest evaluation of their viability and a determination if any or all should be modified. Why put the province in an economic straightjacket without valid supporting arguments and facts?
Developing public policy and explaining it to the electorate is an arduous task. The first order of business is determining the objective of any policy and the overall impact such a policy will have on the economy, employment, the fiscal capacity of the government to finance each option and the longer-term economic development of the province.
There is a wealth of data and analysis already in existence, so such a review of existing policies should not take more than six months at the outside.
Once cabinet has decided on the high-level structure of the relevant policies, then government should explain those and proposed actions in a clear and factual manner to the electorate.
Voters have the capacity to understand policies that are clearly articulated as to purpose, objectives, consequences and projected costs. It's time to treat us as adults.
David Bond is an author and retired bank economist.
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