The announcement today of a positive final investment decision (FID) by LNG Canada is causing speculation that the BC Green MLAs will withdraw their support from the NDP and cause the government to fall.
The three BC Green MLAs agreed to support the NDP to form government and detailed this agreement in a Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA). The agreement says that the BC Green MLAs will “neither move, nor vote non-confidence during the term of this agreement, so long as the principle of good faith and no surprises has been observed.”
The CASA is silent on LNG, but last night BC Green leader Andrew Weaver voiced strong opposition to any LNG project saying it is inconsistent with a viable climate action plan. A climate action plan is part of the CASA. The NDP government has said it intends to present a climate action plan to the legislature this fall.
The government will also need to pass legislation to support the LNG Canada project through a number of measures including: income tax, sales tax, carbon tax and electricity rates. This is expected in the fall sitting of the legislature but could be held over to the spring sitting to give them more time to develop their climate action plan.
The BC Greens have said that they will not vote for this legislation leading to speculation that the government could fall due to lack of confidence. That’s unlikely because the BC Liberals support LNG. While they may move amendments and speak against the bill, they are expected to vote for it.
The real issue is the yet to be revealed climate action plan – now called the clean growth strategy. The development of such a strategy is critical to the BC Greens’ support of the NDP government. If the clean growth strategy is not seen as credible by the BC Greens, they will consider the CASA to have been violated and they could look for an opportunity to force a confidence motion in the legislature. The BC Liberals would be likely to vote with them, thus bringing down the government.
As recently as last December, Weaver was adamant that the BC Greens would “bring the government down” if they approved an LNG project. Since then, he has softened his tone while continuing to oppose LNG – now saying he wants to see the government’s clean growth strategy before passing final judgment. It is apparent that there is intense work going on in government to craft a strategy that Weaver can support.
A realistic climate action plan is one of the most important policy initiatives for Weaver. His reputation as an international climate scientist would be harmed if he supported a plan that didn’t actually lower emissions. An equally important initiative for the BC Greens is changing the voting system from first-past-the-post (FPTP) to proportional representation (PR). A referendum is being held to decide this in November 2018 and the success of this referendum impacts various possible scenarios.
Possible scenarios include:
- The clean growth strategy accommodates the increased emissions from LNG Canada while still allowing BC to meet its emission reduction targets. The NDP/Green alliance holds and the government continues.
- The clean growth strategy does not credibly accommodate LNG Canada, but the PR vote is “yes” meaning that the next election will be fought along PR lines as long as the government lasts until 2021. (Any election held before the next scheduled one in the fall of 2021 would be run on FPTP rules, not PR.) While the Green MLAs could decide the CASA has been violated and move to non-confidence causing the government to fall, they are more likely to want to ensure the next election is fought along PR rules. This means, notwithstanding their unhappiness with the clean growth strategy, they will be more inclined to stick with the NDP and work to improve the clean growth strategy over time.
- The clean growth strategy does not credibly accommodate LNG Canada, but the PR vote is defeated meaning the next election will be fought along FPTP lines. In this case, the Green MLAs will have to decide whether they are better to take the risk that a FPTP election will work for them or decide to stick with the NDP government and work on them to make changes to the clean growth strategy or to seek other concessions from government including that this will be the only LNG project to be approved.
There is no immediate threat to the NDP government. Even if the Greens opt to withdraw support, the government will be able to continue until next spring. The Green MLAs must decide whether it is better to stick with the NDP where they have influence on policy or abandon them and take their chances with another FPTP election. A lot is riding on the details of the clean growth strategy and the outcome of the referendum.
Elizabeth Cull is a Senior Associate with Hill+Knowlton Strategies. She was a BC New Democrat MLA between 1989 and 1996 and served as Minister of Health, Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance and Corporate Relations between 1991 and 1996.