B.C.’s mining and forestry sectors were both left largely unimpressed after their annual advocacy week with the NDP government, though they give high marks to Premier David Eby for continuing to genuinely listen and engage with their concerns.
The mining industry was looking for some sort of clarity from government on what it will charge when it switches from the carbon tax to output-based carbon pricing for mining in April.
“We currently pay the highest carbon tax in the world while having the lowest greenhouse gas emissions globally,” said Michael Goehring, BC Mining Association CEO.
“We have conveyed to government our concern that the current output-based pricing system that’s proposed for British Columbia is not competitive with the carbon price that mines in Quebec and Ontario pay.”
Preliminary numbers indicate B.C.’s carbon pricing could be 75 per cent higher than what mines pay in both of those provinces by 2030, he said.
“It sends the wrong signal to global investors who are considering investing in B.C.’s mining sector,” said Goehring.
Investor confidence key plank in Eby’s speech
That criticism will sting the NDP government, given that international investor confidence was a central plank of Eby’s speech to the industry at the Natural Resources Forum in Prince George Tuesday.
“Mining is a major strength for British Columbia,” said Eby.
“We’re a world-leading jurisdiction when it comes to mining, and what I believe sets us apart in the global markets… with global investors, they know about our sustainable practices here in B.C, they know about the secure investment climate, they know about our lower carbon products, they know about our partnerships with Indigenous people, and these are all important considerations for them as they decide where to place their investment.”
Eby has, to the surprise of some, been a vocal supporter of the mining sector since taking office. He’s cited the need for critical minerals like copper and lithium as vital to the batteries, solar panels and other electronic components needed to transition the province to a cleaner economy and fight climate change.
Federally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said B.C.’s mineral wealth is a national asset, allowing the country to be less reliant on countries like China.
February’s budget important moment for industry’s future
Goehring said the rate B.C. will set in its new output-based carbon pricing model — to be finalized and unveiled in February’s provincial budget — will be a key moment for the industry’s future. “The pricing system as we understand it to be, will negatively impact investment decisions and also impact the critical minerals strategy,” he said. “This is why we’re concerned.”
Goehring, though, gives Eby credit for continuing to listen to those concerns.
“We’ve had a healthy dialogue with the government,” he said.
“What I heard from the premier (Tuesday) night was a genuine recognition of the importance of B.C.’s natural resource industries, and I heard from premier Eby a genuine interest in supporting these sectors.”
There was a similar reaction from the forestry sector, still stung by a fibre supply shortage, a global price slump and uncertainty over B.C.’s old growth and biodiversity protection policies.
“The future of forestry is a strong one,” Eby told the Truckloggers convention on Thursday.
Eby reaffirmed his government’s three-prong approach to forestry: Ensuring long-term agreements between First Nations and companies on what trees to log and what old growth to protect under regional forest planning tables; helping retool mills to new products using a $150 million manufacturing aid fund that has saved more than 700 jobs and created more than 300 new ones; and opening up new overseas markets to bypass the American softwood lumber dispute.
The industry has cited the instability caused by the long term forest landscape planning, biodiversity and old growth.
“It is not part of a plan to reduce your industry,” said Eby.
‘We’re in dire straights right now’
Those in attendance wanted the premier to know the real-world struggle of people losing their jobs.
“I don’t think anybody knows just how bad it is,” said Tracey Russell, vice-president of Inland Truck and Equipment. “We’re in dire straights right now.”
Eby said he’s hopeful for improvements, but noted the annual allowable cut would probably never return to maximum historical projections.
Eby also appointed Andrew Mercier, a young rising star in his backbench, as parliamentary secretary in the forests ministry, to re-engage the sector.
“Andrew’s job will be to work with you to address those gaps between the trees that are available, and those with access to the tenure and fibre supply at operations big and small across the province,” Eby told the resources forum.
“The reason why I’ve asked Andrew to take on this important work is because I believe that the forestry industry is critically important to our province. I take the fibre supply issues that you’re facing deadly serious. I understand that communities depend on this, not just for direct jobs, but for all the spin-off jobs.”
‘The goal posts keep moving’
BC United leader Kevin Falcon, who listened to Eby’s speech in Prince George, scoffed at his promises.
“The biggest criticism you’ll hear is the goal posts keep moving,” said Falcon. “There’s so much uncertainty being created after seven years of this government. Permit paralysis is a huge problem. So what we’re seeing is capital fleeing the province.”
Falcon offered up his own natural resources plan, the centrepiece of which was an Indigenous loan guarantee program.
“I met with half a dozen chiefs that are very pro-LNG and they were very excited to hear about this program,” said Falcon.
“Because what it will do is provide loan guarantees to participating First Nations so they can be full equity partners for projects that will make sense for their communities, whether its oil and gas or mining or clean tech or IPPs (independent power projects).”
Falcon and Eby also duelled this week over expanding the electricity grid to meet future demand. Falcon promised to restore IPPs cancelled by the NDP government, to help generate new power. Though he also doubled down on natural gas as a viable fuel source for the future, something environmental groups have said will never allow the province to hits its climate targets.
Eby, in turn, unveiled a new 10-year capital plan for BC Hydro that added more than $10 billion in new upgrades and refurbishments to existing generating stations and lines, including added capacity from Prince George to Stikine. It fell short of a new high-capacity transmission line to the north coast to feed liquified natural gas terminals.
Meanwhile, back at the Truckloggers convention, the industry appealed to Eby to help with the existential crisis facing forestry.
“We have to get through to the community it’s okay to cut down trees?” Russell asked him.
“How do we change the perception?”
Eby said he’s open to new ideas, and new aid, to help the sector transition through difficult times.
“My success in politics has been listening and getting things done,” he said.
Both sectors say the premier’s doing a good job on the first part. On the second, though, they are still waiting hopefully.