Third Session, 41st Parliament (2018)
This is a DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY of debate in one sitting of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This transcript is subject to corrections, and will be replaced by the final, official Hansard report. Use of this transcript, other than in the legislative precinct, is not protected by parliamentary privilege, and public attribution of any of the debate as transcribed here could entail legal liability.
DEBATES OF THE
COMMITTEE A BLUES
THURSDAY, MAy 31, 2018
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF ENERGY,
MINES AND PETROLEUM RESOURCES
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); R. Leonard in the chair.
The committee met at 1:37 p.m.
On Vote 21: ministry operations, $58,015,000 (continued).
T. Redies: We're going to talk a little bit about project labour agreements. Can the minister confirm comments made by the Premier to the B.C. Building Trades at the convention, on his 101st day in office, that B.C. Hydro has been handed a directive to use exclusively Building Trades labour for their $20 billion ten-year capital plan, as well as the revised $10.7 billion budget on Site C? Is this now the case?
Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of where things are at with project labour agreements and B.C. Hydro, there has been no directive from government in terms of project labour agreements at this time.
The reason is because government is reviewing how we would best implement those. Historically, what they were called is project labour agreements. Going forward, however, with that review and a new vision, they're being called community benefit agreements.
Now, the review for this is being done by the Ministry of Transportation. Once that is completed, it'll be rolled out across government, and we will look at ways to best implement community benefit agreements. That's what is happening with that type of labour agreement right now.
T. Redies: How can a project labour agreement, which is to do with unions, be categorized as a community benefit agreement? I don't understand the correlation.
Hon. M. Mungall: The difference here is…. We can belabour semantics and so on. The concept is not entirely different from project labour agreements, but it has a bit of a broader view.
I can't comment on the full details of what's being looked at by the Ministry of Transportation, as that's not my ministry, and I'm not responsible for that work right now. All I can say is that that is being done by the Ministry of Transportation. It'll eventually come back to cabinet for decision-making in terms of how we would be rolling that out across all of government, including our Crown corporations.
T. Redies: Does this mean that the current arrangements, where all types of labour forces will be able to participate in projects that are being led by B.C. Hydro, are going forward?
Hon. M. Mungall: I don't have a lot of information for the member on this particular item simply because in terms of if there's been any recent changes, the answer is no, as I said earlier. There's been no directive at this stage that's been issued to B.C. Hydro or any Crown corporation or any government ministry that is heavily involved in capital projects. Rather, we're going through this process in terms of identifying how we would do so and how we would procure labour on any project and looking at the broader issue under the community benefits agreement vision.
That's being handled by the Ministry of Transportation. So I'm sorry for the member. I just don't have any further detail.
T. Redies: Is the minister telling us that the Premier was wrong in his announcements to the building trades?
Hon. M. Mungall: I was not at that meeting with the B.C. Building Trades. I can't necessarily comment on the exact words that the Premier used, and what he said. I don't recall the member offering a direct quote. Maybe she did, and I misinterpreted. But I wasn't there for what he said to that organization.
However, it would be fair for him, as Premier, to inform B.C. Building Trades, and any member of the public, that we are looking at community benefit agreements, formerly project labour agreements, and that in the future, going forward, we're going to be looking at different ways to procure labour on our capital projects.
T. Redies: Can the minister tell the House what percentage of B.C. workers are under the umbrella of the B.C. Building Trades and its affiliated unions?
Hon. M. Mungall: That type of information is not retained within this ministry. It would be better found in the Ministry of Labour.
T. Redies: According to our statistics, 87 percent of B.C.'s labour is actually not part of the building trades. So I guess where we are going, and you can appreciate from our perspective…. When we hear the Premier indicating that all contracts going forward are going to be unionized, we are asking two questions. If that does happen, how is B.C. Hydro going to make sure it can access the appropriate labour pool? Secondly, what is that going to do to the cost of the project, particularly Site C?
Hon. M. Mungall: I'm not able to comment on either of those items at this time. As I was saying earlier, the government is looking at the concept of community benefits agreements, keeping in mind that project labour agreements were very, very functional in the past and have been up to date in terms of having good expertise and a good skill base on jobsites, preventing any health and safety problems on jobsites and also delivering projects on time and on budget.
T. Redies: That's an interesting answer, because our data suggests otherwise, the other way. In fact, if we look at the Island Highway that the NDP has mentioned in the past as a symbol of success, that jacked up costs by 38 percent. I would like to read it into the record that many reports indicate that using only union labour tends to add 20 percent to 30 percent onto costs.
I guess my question is: if this did become a situation, does the existing Site C revised budget, which has already been revised once under this government…. Would it be in jeopardy of staying on budget with the revised budget?
Hon. M. Mungall: I don't think the member would want a minister of the Crown to speak in hypothetical terms or try to crystal-ball something as serious as contracts at Site C. So I won't do that. But what I will just remind the member of is that yesterday I did confirm that $6 billion has already been committed in contracts and that we are on track to meet the new budget of $10.7 billion.
T. Redies: Just to ask it another way, could the minister or B.C. Hydro confirm...? Did they consider increased union labour as part of the revised budget?
Hon. M. Mungall: The way that procurement is done is that B.C. Hydro will put a contract out to tender. Groups, companies or labour organizations will put forward proposals — the costs and how they would deliver that particular contract. Then B.C. Hydro looks at all the contracts and then ultimately makes a decision.
Are they going to be making decisions to remain within their $10.7 billion budget for the remainder of the contracts that need to be let? Absolutely. Would those contracts potentially be available to organized labour? Certainly. They are more than welcome to be making proposals to any contract tendering.
T. Redies: Thank you for that, Minister. On this side of the House, we believe it's very important for B.C. Hydro to have access to multiple options to ensure competitiveness and that the costs for their projects are not any higher than what they need to be.
I'd like to move to just some technical questions. Can the minister tell us the status of the tension cracks now and what, if any, additional spending was required to address them?
Hon. M. Mungall: As the member noted, there were tension cracks in the construction of the civil works. The first one happened February 2017 and the second one in May 2017. Since then, there've been no further tension cracks.
Both of those have been resolved with very modest cost increases. We don't have those cost increases separated out at this time. If the member would like that, we could do our best to try and get it to her, but that's just not how the accounting worked, in terms of separating those costs out.
T. Redies: Can the minister confirm that the river diversion is to take place now in 2020 and that that was the decision that was determined last fall?
Hon. M. Mungall: Yes, the river diversion is, unfortunately, delayed by a year until 2020. The reason why is…. Primarily, it was a result of the tension cracks and having to address those tension cracks. I don't think that would come as a surprise to anybody that those could possibly cause delays. That was the primary reason for the delay.
There were a few other challenges. I think it's been in the news that there were some challenges that we had with the main civil works contractor, for example, but the main challenge is definitely having to deal with those tension cracks.
T. Redies: The reason why I asked the minister this question is that in March, on the Voice of B.C. — March of this year — the minister told Vaughn Palmer that the river diversion was going to be 2019. I don't know if that was just an error, but has she corrected it for the record?
Hon. M. Mungall: I would apologize. That perhaps was an error.
T. Redies: Moving to Highway 29 now, can the minister tell us where we are with regards to the consultations on the relocation of Highway 29? Has an alternative site been identified?
Hon. M. Mungall: We are in the process of consultations regarding the realignment of Highway 29. We are consulting with First Nations and property owners who are directly impacted, as well as the Ministry of Transportation, clearly.
We are also doing some further archaeological work that needs to be done up there. As the member may recall, First Nations have identified several sites that were under the original realignment design for Highway 29 as historic sites for them, some sacred historic sites as well, and so we're doing some of that archaeological work.
We expect a decision on the final realignment to be had by August of this year, and that is on track with the planning.
T. Redies: Is the minister able to tell us what has been spent to date on the Highway 29 realignment? Is it within the original allocated budget?
Hon. M. Mungall: Unfortunately, we don't have the exact expenditure for Highway 29 realignment to date handy with us. We're going to try and get it for the member before the end of day. If not, I'll be sure to send it to her in writing.
In terms of the overall budget, which…. I asked because I would like to give that to the member as well. However, at this time, we don't have that broken out. It's actually part of a larger bucket of a few other items as well. We'd have a better idea of what the overall budget is once we head into the procurement phase.
T. Redies: I think the minister answered this, but with these archaeological dig complications, for want of a better word, is B.C. Hydro convinced that they can still make the 2020 date?
Hon. M. Mungall: Yes. As I said, where we are at right now is consistent with the plan. We are on track to meet our plan, and having that August decision is right on schedule.
The Chair: Minister — member — for Peace River South.
M. Bernier: Was to be and plan to be. How's that?
Just staying on Highway 29, and on behalf of my colleague from Peace River North, as well, on this issue…. Of course, there were years and years of community and First Nations consultation that went into everything to do with the Site C project, including the Highway 29 realignment and where that would go. Work had been done to ensure that the road was going in a place that wasn't culturally sensitive, and now we have one First Nations group who's come out and said that it possibly could be.
One of my concerns, or questions to the minister, I guess, would be…. She's saying it's still going to be maybe on time to make an announcement this fall. But is that going to possibly increase the cost of the project? Because looking at some of the different options, there's still no on-the-ground…. Not to take away from the work that's happening by the archaeologists and historians in the area, but there's still no actual proof that maybe there was. That's why we're doing the work — to find out.
If they find out that we have to move and realign, that could increase the costs now. Has B.C. Hydro planned that, and what do they think those increases might be? Because if we're planning to go out this fall, we should know.
Hon. M. Mungall: Of course, when it comes to the realignment of Highway 29, cost is not the only consideration. We have to, especially in an era of reconciliation, be balancing costs with First Nations rights and title and rights to practise their traditions and their culture. When I did my…. Personally, I consulted with Treaty 8 Nations back in November. I definitely heard from more than one nation that the realignment of Highway 29 was a concern for them and that we need to be respecting First Nations traditions, absolutely.
In terms of if it's going to be increasing the cost, it's within our budget. When we revised the budget to $10.7 billion, it was part of our budget to relook at this issue. The very reason that we wanted to relook at this issue is because we want to be honouring First Nations traditions and their very rights to practise those traditions.
M. Bernier: I appreciate the comments from the minister. I mean, we're not going to debate or argue the point that we need to be consulting, which is why there was ten years of consulting B.C. Hydro, and we did a great job. I sat on those committees for about eight years of that, where we were working and consulting with communities and First Nations to ensure the locations for the highway, for the dam, for the flooding zone. Everything was all taken into consideration as part of that, which is why there's also been the impact-and-benefits agreements with local First Nations, and most of them have signed on with that and the understanding that those consultations did take place.
I'm not trying to take away from that. If there is something new that has been discovered, then obviously that work and due diligence has to be taken. Concern, obviously, from local people is around not only the timeline but where that road realignment could possibly go. The one area that B.C. Hydro is considering, from what I've seen, is right through the centre, basically, of some of the best agricultural land outside that area. So I'm just kind of curious on how we reconcile all those things as well.
Hon. M. Mungall: I'm just going to go back to the other member's question from earlier. We do have some numbers on what's been spent to date on the Highway 29 realignment. Where we are is at $18 million, which includes $13 million on engineering. That stands for that previous question.
I recognize the member's comments that there are various competing interests. The realignment of Highway 29…. Make no mistake; I don't think anybody thinks it's something easy. It's a very challenging task, and that's precisely why B.C. Hydro is in consultations with those who are going to be impacted and seeking to make a resolution and have a decision back out to the public, so we all have some certainty of where things are going to go as of August.
T. Redies: I'm just going to turn now to the generating station and spillways contract. Can the minister please explain to this House why the contract came in $610 million over the original budget? Did the increased costs have anything to do with the delay in getting the contract awarded? I believe they were supposed to be awarded in the fall of 2017, and it didn't happen until 2018.
Hon. M. Mungall: The process for the generating station and spillways contract was a procurement process. It went out to tender. We had three bidders. The successful bidder was $610 million over the estimated cost for this contract.
What that showed us is that the original estimation for this contract was not accurate. It was underestimated, unfortunately. The bid that came in was the best bid at market value.
The reason why there were delays — it was part of the procurement process. There were some issues that the bidders had to contend with, and they asked for requests to delay their bids into the tendering process: namely, because they were dealing with increases in — well, often the usual — concrete, steel and labour. There have been price increases in that, and they wanted to see those commodity prices settle before they were able to complete their bids and so requested some delays.
T. Redies: Aecon, the lead contractor in the consortium that was awarded the generating station and spillways contract, has been engaged in trying to sell the company, which has now been blocked by the federal government. Has the minister or B.C. Hydro had discussions with this company with respect to the issue? And will they still be able to execute on their contract with Site C?
Hon. M. Mungall: In a word, absolutely. Yes, they will still be able to execute and fulfil their obligations under the contract.
T. Redies: I'd now like to turn to the ten-year capital plan, specifically to ask the minister: what has been the impact of the increase in costs of Site C to the ten-year capital plan? In other words, have there been other projects that have been deferred as a result of Site C? Would the minister give a detailed list of what those projects are?
Hon. M. Mungall: When we revised the budget to $10.7 billion, the reason why this government chose to revise that budget is that we chose to go with a more conservative type of modelling than the previous government. The previous government's budget would be what is considered a P50: it had a 50 percent chance of meeting that total and a 50 percent chance of not meeting that total.
I personally felt that that was not a good way to go. I thought that that was not fiscally conservative enough and that ratepayers should have something that's a bit more concrete. We went with the P90 version, so the budget has a 90 percent chance of meeting its actual total of $10.7 billion. That's why we went with that.
As a result, though, there is no impact on other capital projects so there have been no delays.
T. Redies: Just to confirm, what the minister is saying is that they've added the additional amount for Site C. It has been added to the total capital plan. Is that correct?
Hon. M. Mungall: Yes, that would be correct.
T. Redies: Has there been any maintenance on various assets of Hydro deferred as a result of some of the challenges that they've had with the large Site C project?
Hon. M. Mungall: No.
T. Redies: According to our records, it appears that a number of maintenance projects have been deferred. I wonder if the minister could comment about the maintenance on time-expired meters being pushed back. Also, smart meters in the north are being scaled back by B.C. Hydro. Why is that happening?
Hon. M. Mungall: There might be a variety of reasons why any particular project, a maintenance project, might be delayed. We can assure the member that those delays are not related to Site C.
For example, she brought up issues around meters. The reasons behind this are varied. For example, several people around B.C. chose not to adopt smart meters. At some point, though, those properties are going to have to get smart meters. Those delays might be caused by that.
We don't have the details on every particular maintenance project and why it might be experiencing a delay within its own project, but in terms of delays occurring as a result of Site C, there's no indication that any delay that would be happening with some of our maintenance at B.C. Hydro is a result of that.
T. Redies: If I remember correctly, B.C. Hydro does a periodic review of the condition of its assets. One of the reasons why they had to undertake a $20 billion ten-year capital plan was because there was very little invested in the assets in the 1990s.
Again, with the now-increased capital budget, can the minister confirm that the percentage of assets that were in fair and poor condition is not going to change at the end of this ten-year plan? In other words, are you on track? Is Hydro on track to upgrade its assets according to past reviews, which had been, I think — I can't remember the exact percentage — certainly an improvement in the assets?
Hon. M. Mungall: The process, in terms of reviewing asset management, asset maintenance and upgrading, has been the same for a long time, long before I got here, and it hasn't changed in the last few months. In terms of where things are at now, everything is on track.
That being said, things may change going forward, in the future, as you triage and the need for one asset increases over another asset, perhaps, and so on. I can't predict what that might be, but in terms of where things are at today, everything is on track.
T. Redies: I'd like to turn now to the Terrace-to-Kitimat transmission line. This line is now no longer being, I guess, replaced. What we would like to ask the minister is: given the fact that the current line that had been noted is not going to be sufficient for the area, why is Hydro only looking at refurbishing it at this time?
Hon. M. Mungall: I think this particular issue really highlights for me how B.C. Hydro staff who are in charge of looking at all of these things are consistently always thinking about how we can best meet the needs of ratepayers while also ensuring that they have the best value for their dollars.
With this particular situation, the Terrace-to-Kitimat transmission line, what we're seeing is that replacement might not be the best value for dollar. It might not be the most effective way to achieve our ultimate goals of meeting the power grid needs for that area, so refurbishment might be the better way to go. That's why B.C. Hydro staff are looking specifically at perhaps finding an alternative, less costly method to achieve the ultimate goal.
T. Redies: Given that LNG Canada looks like a distinct possibility, wouldn't it make sense for B.C. Hydro to move forward to building a new line to provide capacity for that development?
Hon. M. Mungall: If the member is concerned on whether or not LNG Canada's needs are in the scope of looking at whether we want to replace or refurbish this transmission line, absolutely. I hope that we'll have a good, positive FID soon, and we'll be able to know and give the member a more definitive answer on whether it will be replaced or refurbished, and we'll know what we're doing with this transmission line.
T. Redies: Just to confirm, from what the minister is saying, I think that there is a possibility that the line will have to be replaced if the LNG Canada project goes ahead.
Hon. M. Mungall: Sorry. To clarify, no, that's not specifically what I was saying. What I was saying is whether the best value for ratepayers' dollars is replacement or refurbishment and whether or not LNG Canada will have a positive FID. Their potential for a positive FID is definitely within the scope of considering whether we want to replace or refurbish.
T. Redies: Just moving to the integrated resource plan, can the minister provide an update on where B.C. Hydro is with respect to this plan?
Hon. M. Mungall: Our integrated resource plan, which is the IRP, is not going to be ready in 2018. That was the original date that it should be ready for. Let me tell the member why it's not going to be ready in 2018. It comes back to the review that we've been talking about over the last couple of days that we're doing.
After the Clean Energy Act was passed by the previous government, the IRP would go directly to government and would not go to the B.C. Utilities Commission. Historically, prior to the Clean Energy Act, it did go to the B.C. Utilities Commission.
As part of our review, one of our questions is if the IRP should continue on its current trajectory of going to government or if we should be doing things how we had done them in the past, for several decades, which is going to the B.C. Utilities Commission. Until we have that question answered as part of our phase 1 review that's going to be completed in fall of this year, we will not be having our IRP go to government and likely not be able to meet that December 31, 2018.
T. Redies: Can the minister provide us with the revised timeline, then? When is it expected to move up the process?
Hon. M. Mungall: There are quite a few moving parts to be able to answer that question in terms of what the revised date is. Some of our moving parts right now are, of course, the energy road map…. That's a part of my mandate. There is the climate action strategy that is going to be coming forward as part of the Ministry of Environment's mandate as well. Of course, the big question is the review and where the review wants to see us going. Because there are so many moving parts at this time, I don't have a specific date when we can expect the IRP to be completed.
T. Redies: I'm now moving to the net-metering program. I have had a number of constituents contact me about what appears to be a cancellation of the program. Can the minister explain why net metering has been shelved?
In particular, it seems like a large part of the minister's mandate is around this energy roadmap. Given that our economy is likely to be electrified more over the coming years, why would they take away this incentive for people to have solar panels, for example, to heat and provide electricity to their home?
Hon. M. Mungall: I want to just start off by saying that the entire net-metering program is not cancelled. What B.C. Hydro is doing…. The information that B.C. Hydro has put out there has been clear. How it ultimately gets translated through various media has been different. I've been watching this, and it has been different. What has happened is that B.C. Hydro has made an amendment to the B.C. Utilities Commission for this particular program.
When the program was first introduced, it was to encourage people to get solar panels for their roofs, for example, or have other forms of renewable energy that they can provide to their home and, potentially, at different times of the year, feed back into the grid. Ultimately, at the end of the year, they would have a reduced cost on their energy bill, but they wouldn't be making money off of it. B.C. Hydro wouldn't be owing them money at the end of the year.
What has happened over time, unfortunately, is that some people have seen this as an income opportunity. They played the rules, in a way. They would buy quite a lot of solar panels and start generating so much energy that B.C. Hydro would actually owe them at the end of the year. It's not just a few hundred dollars — upwards to $60,000. That's an annual income for a lot of people.
It was a backdoor approach. People were using this as a backdoor, personal approach to the standing offer program, in a way. That's not how this program was originally intended or designed, and it was becoming quite unfair.
To get back to a more fair model, B.C. Hydro has made an amendment with the B.C. Utilities Commission so that we're back to where the intention originally was, which was that if somebody has a solar panel that will help them with their overall costs in a year, that's great. We want to continue on with that, but we want to close this back door to the standing offer program.
T. Redies: How is that actually going to work? I presume the homes are going to produce the energy. It'll go up to the grid. Is it just that Hydro will just not pay for the surplus?
Hon. M. Mungall: The way that this process is working out is that it won't affect existing people who are involved in the net-metering program. Rather, the application to the B.C. Utilities Commission for an amendment is to change the very application that people would be filling out for the net-metering program.
What would be on the proposed terms by B.C. Hydro is that B.C. Hydro would be looking at their overall load in a year. If their application is above the load that they generally use, then their application would be denied, for example. That's the terms that B.C. Hydro has put forward to the B.C. Utilities Commission. Ultimately, those terms are going be decided by the B.C. Utilities Commission, whether they approve or disapprove.
I'll just point out to the member that Fortis made these exact same amendments to their net-metering program and applied to the B.C. Utilities Commission. That decision has already been rendered, and the B.C. Utilities Commission has approved the changes that Fortis requested.
With that, I just ask for a small five-minute recess.
The Chair: We are recessed for five minutes.
The committee recessed from 2:36 p.m. to 2:40 p.m.
[R. Leonard in the chair.]
T. Redies: Just before the break, I believe the minister indicated that all of the existing customers on the net-metering program would be grandfathered. Does that also include the ones that are, I guess, being paid up to $60,000 a year?
Hon. M. Mungall: Yes.
T. Redies: I'd now like to turn to the ITM Power contract. Does the minister believe her announcement, on March 29 of this year, of $230,000 from government and an additional $60,000 from Hydro to ITM Power to study large-scale production of renewable hydrogen in B.C…? Is this an example, from her perspective, of the government's reinvigorating the ICE fund and B.C.'s clean energy sector?
Hon. M. Mungall: There has been a variety of projects funded through the ICE fund. This particular project, the ITM Power contract, was one of the many projects that applied to the ICE fund and was successful in their application.
While this government has been able to secure an extra $8 million into the ICE fund, I would not call any of this as the overall reinvigoration of the ICE fund that we're looking to do.
Right now ministry staff is working on a submission to myself that will eventually be reviewed, likely by Treasury Board, because that's where all money things go. What's going to ultimately be happening around the ICE fund, in terms of how we can reinvigorate that and support clean, renewable energy projects around the province, is yet to be determined.
T. Redies: Can the minister tell us how the ministry arrived on ITM Power, which is a U.K.-based company, as the proponent for this particular study? Did the minister or ministry consider any local British Columbia companies to execute this study?
Hon. M. Mungall: Like I said earlier, ITM applied, and their application was successful. In terms of the details of their application and why that decision was made, we don't have those particular details here. We'd have to get that back to the member at a later date.
T. Redies: According to the government of Canada, the largest cluster of hydrogen fuel cell companies is actually located in British Columbia, including companies like Blue Fuel Energy, which operates here in Victoria as well as in the northeast.
I'm just curious, given the strength of expertise in this area being in B.C., why ITM was chosen over a B.C. company.
Hon. M. Mungall: I appreciate the member is curious about that, and that's exactly why I already committed to getting her the information, in terms of why that decision was made around their application.
T. Redies: Just to confirm, as the minister goes forward with the road map and other initiatives, does the ministry intend to support B.C. companies primarily over companies outside the province?
Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of what we're going to be doing going forward, again, I can't answer that. A submission is currently being worked on around the ICE fund. What ultimately comes back….
In terms of values set and priorities, of course, we always want to see B.C. companies thrive and be able to have opportunities and be able to succeed in British Columbia. We also want to attract new companies to British Columbia as well, right? That's very important for our economy.
There are other things to consider as well in terms of our trade obligations with other jurisdictions and the types of trade agreements that we have with other jurisdictions and so on, which also have to guide decision-making as well.
T. Redies: The minister will be glad to know that this is my last question, and I actually should have asked it earlier.
We were speaking about the capital plan, I guess, essentially going up by $2 billion because of the revised budget on Site C. Can the minister or the staff explain to us what that is going to do to the debt-to-equity plans of Hydro to get to 60-40? Is that going to delay the ability of Hydro to reach that very important goal in terms of the company's balance sheet?
Hon. M. Mungall: B.C. Hydro's goal to get to a 60-40 debt-to-equity ratio is to do so in the 2030s.
In terms of the revised budget on Site C having any impact on that, we don't think it's likely that it would, but if it did, what our analysis shows is that it would be very marginal. It wouldn't be significant. It might be, maybe, by a year or even less.
T. Redies: With that, I'd like to thank the staff. I appreciate you staying over an extra day.
I'd like to, again, wish the Minister all the very best in this next stage of your life. I can tell you, having had four children, that it was the best thing I ever did, so good luck and safe delivery.
Hon. M. Mungall: Thank you very much.
L. Throness: I just have a couple of questions for the minister today about an application for an aggregate mine at 3628 Hot Springs Road, near the village of Harrison Hot Springs in my riding. I'm doing this…. The minister was not able to meet with a delegation of local residents about this issue, so I want to bring it to her directly.
I think I've received more correspondence and feedback about this issue than any other issue in my last five years of being an MLA. We've presented a 1,600-name petition in the Legislature. There have been many letters to the chief inspector of mines about the issues relevant in our community.
I'm wondering if the minister could give us some idea of the timeline for the decision of the statutory decision–maker going forward. There's been nothing that has been shared with us to date.
Hon. M. Mungall: I know that the member opposite will be sharing this with his constituents, so I just want to share a little bit of the process so that everybody understands. I do know that a meeting with me was requested. However, I decline such meetings like that because it would be very inappropriate for there to be any perception or any type of conversation or perception of conflict from the minister getting involved in what is the decision-making process of a statutory decision–maker.
In that process, in terms of what the statutory decision–maker ultimately decides, I find out the same time as the member does, the same time as the deputy minister. The statutory decision–maker has quite a lot of independence from the political actors, so to speak, as it should be. These decisions should be made in terms of the best interests of the community and of the project.
What's happening in terms of where the timeline is at? I don't have a lot of detail. The best person to ask would be the statutory decision–maker, in terms of what that person is doing, but our understanding is that he's currently not in the decision-making stage. Rather, he's consulting with people who would be impacted by his decision, and I understand that he is consulting with the community.
L. Throness: In my experience — and I understand the process and appreciate the value of that process — statutory decision–makers can become isolated if they sit in their office in Victoria or in Vancouver or Surrey or wherever they are and make a decision without really having local knowledge and relevance to the community.
I think something that the minister could do without impinging on the independence of the statutory decision–maker would be to ask the statutory decision–maker to travel to the community and to see why people object and, in particular, to hold a public meeting. The statutory decision–maker can ask the proponent to hold a public meeting at which there are staff from the ministry. I would challenge staff from the ministry to go to the ground and see what people are facing and hear their concerns firsthand. Would the minister commit to doing that?
Hon. M. Mungall: I think it's very important for any minister of the day to fully respect the authority and decision-making and responsibilities of a statutory decision–maker, and I intend to do exactly that. So I will not be providing any particular directives to the statutory decision–making. I think that would be wrong.
That being said, I do want to reassure the member that with any project, there are ministry staff involved with the statutory decision–maker who actually go to the site and do their due diligence. They are familiar with what the project is requesting to do, based on the actual land base. They're not sitting in Victoria looking at pictures and maps exclusively. In fact, they're often out on the site and reviewing it appropriately. Sometimes they hold community meetings, and sometimes they don't. It's, again, up to the statutory decision–maker in terms of whether they think that that's an appropriate course of action or not. My staff are able to let the statutory decision–maker know that community meetings are always preferred, but again, that decision for one is by the statutory decision–maker.
T. Shypitka: Minister, welcome back. For myself, here, it has been a long week — almost over.
The next one I want it do here is just on another…. It's a mine. It's a deposit, actually — the Davidson deposit up in Smithers. It's a moly deposit. It's referring to a term extension that seems like it's been clawed back. I'm just wondering if the minister or staff are familiar with what's happening up there right now.
Hon. M. Mungall: I'm just curious if the member…. When he says "term extension," he must be talking about an environmental certificate. They're looking for a term extension on their environmental certificate to operate, which would, then, be a decision by the environmental assessment office.
That's my understanding — so not in this ministry. We don't have information on what exactly is going on with that at present. We can help facilitate that and seek it from the environmental assessment office ourselves and get it back to the member, if he likes.
T. Shypitka: Fair enough, Minister. What I'll do is just briefly give you a little something that I received, and then we'll see if it pertains to your ministry or not.
This is from the Davidson proponent up in Smithers.
"Briefly, we are having difficulty obtaining a reasonable term extension on a major mining project and believe that the Association for Mineral Exploration of B.C. and the mining exploration of B.C. both hold interest in finding a solution in order to ensure exploration investment dollars are not affected negatively, as it is those dollars that lead to new mine developments.
"There are additional concerns about the MTO" — that's the Mineral Titles Online system — "and documents being purged by the chief gold commissioner's office, which are outlined in the attached timeline document."
I've sent you some stuff there. I sent it this afternoon. You might not have picked it up yet. It's got all the terms and the dates and the timelines and all that stuff.
"Our immediate concern is obtaining a historical represented term extension of 20-plus years on the advanced stage Davidson deposit. Anything less is not supported by the previous extensions, the advanced stage of the project or the level of risk for further investment."
[R. Glumac in the chair.]
Section 42(5) of the Mineral Tenure Act, 1996, states that "if the lessee complies with this act…the lessee is entitled to a renewal of the lease for one or more further terms not exceeding 30 years". Typically, I think, they had an extension for 21 years, and then it was clawed back, manually through the MTO, to six years.
It's a multi-million-dollar project. I think they've spent $40 million on it already — 250,000 feet of drilling, 10,000 feet of underground working. A substantial amount of work has been put into this mine, and a six-year extension just isn't enough for them to attract investments. It's going to take hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of investment for this mine to go through. The six years is unfair. Through the MTO, I believe it was, they had a 21-year extension. I think it went to 2040, and now they're saying it's 2025.
I'm wondering if that's pertaining to you at all.
Hon. M. Mungall: We're going to have to follow up with the member opposite and get in contact with the chief gold commissioner to see precisely why that decision is being made and be able to provide that information to the member.
T. Shypitka: That's fine. What I'll also do is I will give you some of the questions I was going to have, also, that the proponents have given me. I've sent you information on the timelines and all the documents that you can look at.
Could I also request a meeting with the proponent just for you to hear from him exactly the details of the plan and some of the history and all that other stuff? Would that be acceptable to the minister?
Hon. M. Mungall: Please do give me all the documentation that you have on this, and we'll work with the chief gold commissioner to determine exactly what's going on, for our information at the very least and, obviously, for the member's information.
In terms of a meeting, I would want to find out what precisely is happening. I don't want to commit to a meeting at this time just because I don't know if it would be appropriate for me to do so — talking earlier in terms of intervening, in terms of statutory decision–makers and so on. And there are a few other things that prevent some meetings from happening this summer. So let me get back to you about that, and we'll definitely follow up on this with you as soon as possible.
My ADM reminded me that even if I'm unavailable, he is available any time.
T. Shypitka: That was my question. You've got some great staff. I know you'll be incapacitated at some level here fairly soon, so hopefully the staff will be more than happy to help this person out and hear what they have to say.
I will…. I'm not too sure how I do that — if I just pass it to you, or is it afterwards? There are a couple sheets. Then I'll make sure that you got those timelines and all those other documents on your computer. You should have got them this afternoon. That'll be great.
I just want to go into compliance and enforcement a little bit here. This is something we've talked about quite a bit in the past, and I'd like to touch on it a little bit now. Is the minister familiar with the changes the previous government made allowing for administrative penalties in the mining industry?
Hon. M. Mungall: Yes, and we use them as necessary.
T. Shypitka: Can the minister explain how these penalties work?
Hon. M. Mungall: The process for the administrative penalties is…. The very first step would be that an inspector would inspect the situation. From there, he or she would write an order to fix what the operator was doing wrong. They'd give the operator a particular timeline, a date, by which things must be completed. When that date rolls around, the inspector then goes to see if that work has been done.
This is where, then, depending on if the work had not been done…. If the work has been done, then great, right? If it has not, then the inspector has a choice of two actions. One is to write an updated order. For example, if there was a reason that they weren't able to fix the problem — because they ordered a part, or something like that, and it was delayed due to some problems; perhaps at the border; who knows? — then you would normally find that in that situation, the inspector would make accommodations for that.
However, if it looks like there is an unwillingness to fix the problem, the inspector would likely submit a report to the deputy chief inspector of the compliance and enforcement branch. This is a new position. They would have recommendations for the penalties that the deputy chief inspector may want to consider.
From there, if that deputy chief inspector disagrees, then she will write up a further order to the company. It's at that point that the company can then defend their perspective to the deputy chief inspector. Then the deputy chief inspector will issue a decision one way or another.
Normally what happens at this stage is that the operator will comply with whatever the deputy chief inspector has ordered. However, if they disagree, there's still an appeal type of opportunity, and that would then go to the Environmental Appeal Board.
T. Shypitka: So at what point do these penalties get introduced? When they go to the appeal board and they're deemed to pay a penalty?
Hon. M. Mungall: What has happened to date is that any time we issue an administrative penalty, by the time it gets to the deputy chief inspector, they will comply with whatever penalty we've issued, and they have done so. We have not yet seen anybody go into that final stage of the Environmental Appeal Board.
Should the Environmental Appeal Board, however, uphold the decision by the chief deputy inspector, it is at that time that the operator would be required to comply with the order that is finally determined by the Environmental Appeal Board — and the penalty along with it.
T. Shypitka: Quite a process, a lot of moving parts. It looks like there's a lot of collaboration in there and going to the proponent or the person that's running the operation in an effort to right a wrong or to work with industry that way. As the minister stated, nobody's been penalized thus far with this process, it seems, and that's a good thing. That's government working together with industry, and that's always good to see.
Because of that, can the minister confirm that these penalties will give her ministry more flexibility through compliance and enforcement?
Hon. M. Mungall: From my view, I feel like this process is one that actually allows for quite a bit of flexibility. It allows us to recognize that there are real circumstances that might occur, legitimate circumstances that might occur, where an operator is having some trouble meeting, for example, that fixed timeline to comply with an order.
I mentioned, for example, if a part is delayed in terms of its shipping or…. Goodness knows, I could probably sit here and dream up a lot of different things, but I think the member gets the point — that we do allow for that flexibility.
I would be reticent to have an increased amount of flexibility in this process. I think it's a good process, and the reason why is that we are ultimately the regulator, at the end of the day, and we have to make sure that our primary focus is always working in the public interest. And I think we've met that balance.
T. Shypitka: I understand, through the last government, the previous government….
They did a worldwide study on compliance and enforcement to see if compliance and enforcement was separated in any other jurisdiction. Can the minister tell us what the results of that were, on the last study that the staff did there?
The Chair: The member would like to add to the question.
T. Shypitka: Sorry, I think I said "separated," but what I wanted to say was "separated from the ministry."
Hon. M. Mungall: There are a variety of models around the world and in North America alone. A lot of jurisdictions have found what works best for them. For example, you might find in some jurisdictions there's a completely independent compliance and enforcement branch that looks a lot like the Oil and Gas Commission. Again, just an example.
You might find in other jurisdictions that permitting is a separate branch from compliance and enforcement and that's the only separation. But compliance and enforcement remains within the ministry. In other jurisdictions, you might find that there's a compliance division, a permitting division and an enforcement division, each with their own ADM.
It really depends on what that jurisdiction's needs are and how they've chosen to do it. We're still looking at a lot of that, as we want to identify how best we can ensure that we have very strong compliance and enforcement here in B.C.
T. Shypitka: So what I'm hearing, I guess, from the minister is there are no examples of compliance and enforcement separated from the ministry itself.
Hon. M. Mungall: Yes, there are.
T. Shypitka: Oh, there are? Can the minister tell me what jurisdictions separate compliance and enforcement out of the ministry?
Hon. M. Mungall: What the ministry has been doing is looking at not just in terms of how mining is being regulated in other jurisdictions. They've been looking at a variety of different aspects — environment, energy. What we have found is in terms of mining, the member is right. There are no mining compliance and enforcement branches external to a ministry that we've been able to find.
I kind of assume that based on the aggregate of all of our research. But actually, what we're referring to is how energy has been regulated in some of the other jurisdictions, notably Alberta, and our own as well in terms of oil and gas with the Oil and Gas Commission. You do have an external regulator, an external compliance and enforcement regulator from the ministry.
But in terms of mining, no, we haven't found anybody doing that externally.
T. Shypitka: Thank you, Minister, for the clarification.
Just over seven months ago, I guess, back on November 21 during our last estimates, the minister cited Ontario and Quebec as examples of jurisdictions that operated compliance and enforcement separately because "those who do permitting are not the same people who do compliance and enforcement. Those people are not the same. They are reporting to different supervisors and up the chain."
Can the minister confirm that this is what the Auditor General recommended in her review?
Hon. M. Mungall: I don't even want to try and attempt to speak for the Auditor General and say what her specific intentions were with her report. That is her job to do.
What we are doing, however, as a ministry, is that we do regularly engage with the Auditor General in terms of some of the ideas that we have been looking at, to have a better understanding if those would meet what her intentions were.
T. Shypitka: I believe — and I'll confirm it in a second — that the mandate of the ministry was to go by the recommendations of the Auditor General. On page 11 of the report — and I'll look it up here just to confirm — the quote is: "Our expectation is that this new unit" — compliance and enforcement — "would not reside within the ministry." Can the minister confirm that?
Hon. M. Mungall: We're working with the Auditor General to have a strong understanding of exactly what she is looking for. But ultimately, the responsibility to finalize what our compliance and enforcement branch is going to look like…. That responsibility rests with government. The Auditor General provides recommendations. We take her recommendations very seriously. That's why I said to the member earlier…. That is why we are working with her and engaging with her regularly as we go through this process.
T. Shypitka: I don't know. I'll have to go back to Hansard. Did the minister not just say previous to this question that you weren't going to work with…? The Auditor General's report was just hers and that you're going to do your own thing and you're not about to step on any toes with the Auditor General? I'll have to go back.
In the mandate letter for the Ministry of Mines is to take the recommendations of the Auditor General and the Auditor General report from 2017. In that report, it says: "Our expectation is that this new unit would not reside within this ministry." So I'd like to confirm with the minister. Is she keeping compliance and enforcement in the ministry, or is she breaking it out?
Hon. M. Mungall: As I previously said to the member, we are looking at a variety of examples around North America. We are looking at how they are addressing it, and we're currently in the research stage.
He's asking a question as though we've already made decisions. We haven't made any decisions of how this is ultimately going to result, because we are in the research stage.
T. Shypitka: Well, the research stage has been going on for over seven months. I asked this question back in November, and the answer from the minister was that they looked at…. They cited Quebec and Ontario as examples of jurisdictions, although they're not outside the ministry. They're broken separately within the ministry — separate ADMs, I believe, in that example.
In the last seven months, what jurisdictions, during the research stage…? What examples is the minister looking at, and which ones are they compelling to follow?
Hon. M. Mungall: I appreciate the member is new to this House and is therefore new to understanding government processes and how things take place. So let me just say right now that looking at other jurisdictions is by no means, and would never be, the only thing a government does when looking to develop a new branch of operations. I think that is pretty standard and par for the course.
I think what the member is trying to get at is: what is government doing in terms of trying to meet the recommendation put forward by the Auditor General on this? I'm happy to answer that question.
We've established the deputy ministers mining compliance and enforcement board, comprised of Environment, Energy and Mines and environmental assessment. The board's terms of reference and the minutes and action items are all available on line.
In undertaking a review of other regulators' organizational structures, my ministry has found that organizations separate permitting and compliance and enforcement functions, often within the same agency — so within the same ministry or state department or whatever. The Ministry of Energy and Mines is now working to develop options for establishing an independent oversight unit along with appropriate controls to ensure any promotional role of the ministry is separate and distinct from the regulatory role.
As I said, now, the member opposite is determined to conclude that when we say "independent oversight unit," that is somehow outside of the ministry. There's been no decision on whether it's outside of the ministry or inside of the ministry. The point is that it would be independent from the permit holders. The permit holders would not be the same people doing compliance and enforcement. That's ultimately the goal, and that's what the Auditor General, when we engage with her as part of this process, is saying to us — that that is a very critical function.
Keeping in mind along with this, we, as a ministry, need to look at what would be the budgetary implications, and we need to be making submissions to Treasury Board and to the budgetary process for this. We also have to engage with staff. There are collective agreements but also just general respect for the work that people do and how their work obligations may have to change.
All of that needs to take place, and to do it within this time frame that the member opposite has suggested of seven months since our last budget estimates would be miraculous, at best, for government to achieve something like that.
T. Shypitka: I would have to agree with that.
The question was: are you looking at any other jurisdictions? It's a fairly simple question. The minister didn't say any specific jurisdiction. That's got to be something on the top of her mind, I would imagine, if she's going through this research, that we are looking at certain things. All I wanted to know was which jurisdiction.
Hon. M. Mungall: If the member wanted to know just which jurisdictions, I would have been able to answer that early on, but he asked just if we were, and the answer was yes.
To then further elaborate on which jurisdictions we're looking at, we're looking at Yukon and Queensland. He's mentioned Ontario and Quebec from previous estimates. Obviously, I've already mentioned Alberta and looking at what they're doing. If he wants a more fulsome list than that, I'm happy to provide it following the budget estimates. We don't have the entire list with us right now.
T. Shypitka: Does the minister think that she will get the best compliance and enforcement out of a group of public servants who work in permitting inspections, as we do now, or from a group that is separate from permitting inspections of mines?
Hon. M. Mungall: As I stated earlier, this is exactly what we're trying to figure out right now. I have made no personal conclusions. The ministry has made no conclusions. We're actually working on this right now. Ultimately, there'll be a submission coming back with some recommendations to government.
T. Shypitka: All right. Thank you, Minister.
Through the permitting process, as the minister is probably well aware, there's well over 100 conditions for some of these mines — some even closer to 200 conditions.
Does it not make sense — just a yes-or-no question, I guess, here — to have these people that are working in compliance and enforcement be the ones that are actually inspecting to ensure that the compliance is met on these permits and overseeing that the work is done completely by the company?
As I said, there are a lot of conditions. It's very technical sometimes, and it can take years to get put through. So does it not make sense for those that are putting the permitting together to be the same people that are doing the enforcement and compliance?
Hon. M. Mungall: Whether it's the exact same person who's issuing the permit as is doing the compliance and enforcement, or whether it's different people… In the latter scenario, you would find that those people would be working together closely in some fashion. If it's an independent body outside of the ministry, they would still need to collaborate and work with the permit issuer to have an understanding of what the intentions were — not only the intentions but in terms of any details they may need to know — so that they can do their job effectively.
If it's the same person, obviously, that seems to be a lot easier. However, you've got to keep in mind that there are other issues at play here, such as workload, travel time and any perceived conflicts of interest, for example. There are a variety of things, and that is precisely why other jurisdictions have gone with separating the two out. It's precisely why the Auditor General made the recommendation she was looking at, in terms of separating the two out, and it's why we are looking at it as well.
With that, the member wanted to know which jurisdictions we are looking at. I've already mentioned a few. In addition to that, there's Nova Scotia, the Canada energy board, the U.S. EPA as well.
T. Shypitka: So whether it's broken out of the ministry or kept inside the ministry, it seems like the minister is looking at part of the AG's recommendation, and that's to separate it in some form. That would take extra staff, obviously. We're not using the same people, as the minister is saying.
In fact, actually, according to a document obtained through freedom of information, the advice from the minister's own ministry states this: "…would require more staff, all having the same technical knowledge to ensure knowledge of mining operations currently held by permitting inspectors can be transferred to C and E."
If you decide to go with option 3, the functional and organizational separation of roles, how many new staff will be required to start this new office, and how much will this cost the taxpayers?
Hon. M. Mungall: If separating out compliance and enforcement is ultimately where we decide to go…. We have not made a decision at this stage yet. But yes, we are looking at it, and I think that's the appropriate thing to do. I hope that the member opposite understands that. What we are trying to achieve in all of this is regulatory excellence. We want to make sure that we're delivering on best practices for British Columbians. So if we do separate it out, would it require more people? Yes, it would. Would it cost more? Likely so.
That being said, we're not just recklessly wanting to increase the number of staff just for the sake of increasing the number of staff. Obviously, they would have a very specific job that they need to do. And we'd be wanting to make sure that we are delivering on services that protect the public interests and are ensuring that we're good regulators and that we are meeting a high standard of excellence.
I have to say that if there's any concern in terms of increased costs to taxpayers, well, if we have to spend a little bit more to prevent something like Mount Polley from ever happening again, it's worth every penny, in my books.
T. Shypitka: So the minister doesn't know how much this would cost. She says "every penny," but where is it in the budget? We need to know. These are important things. The minister is rolling her eyes and shaking her head, and yet, she's failing to answer any of the questions. It's a little disappointing.
The investors and the industry want to know. There has been a mandate letter, right in front of me, saying they will follow the recommendations of the AG. Now she's saying: "It might be in; it might be out. We haven't decided quite yet. We're under review." But clearly, in the mandate letter, it says she will do that. She has no budget on what it's going to look like, or they have no one else that's on any of that stuff. So a little disappointing once again. But I've got to move on, and I'm going to hand it over to my colleague.
M. Bernier: Before I move along to a few more topics, recognizing that our time is running to an end here, in short…. So we're going to do the best we can here. But I have one quick other question on the mining side that a colleague would like to just ask. What changes have been made in the past six months on water discharge permits for the mines, both existing and new permits — water discharge permits for mining?
M. Bernier: Yes, just in general. Have there been any changes within the ministry in the last six months?
Hon. M. Mungall: Once the water is discharged from the mine site and they have a permit to do so, any changes to those types of permitting or anything like that is actually not in this ministry. It would be determined by the Ministry of Environment, under…. The acts governing the water discharge permits would be the Water Sustainability Act and the Environmental Management Act.
With that, Chair, I ask if we can take a five-minute break.
The Chair: We'll have a recess for five minutes.
The committee recessed from 3:42 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.
[R. Glumac in the chair.]
M. Bernier: We'll try to see if we can do a marathon run here, but it'll be a very short marathon right through to the end.
I'm going to jump right in here with some more office-related questions. Can the minister first confirm: does she have an EA or any ministry staff or political staff working in her constituency office in her riding?
Hon. M. Mungall: My executive assistant is housed in my Nelson-Creston community office.
M. Bernier: Can the minister…? Does she agree that any and all activity in her office, including the conduct of staff and the judgment of staff in executing their duties, is actually the responsibility of the minister to oversee?
Hon. M. Mungall: Yes, to the best of my abilities. If something occurs that is not appropriate and it contravenes appropriate conduct, it is my responsibility to also discipline them.
M. Bernier: Can the minister confirm that her staff, then, since she took office, to the best of her knowledge, have not done anything inappropriate that contravenes any of the acts?
Hon. M. Mungall: To the best of my knowledge, they have not done anything inappropriate.
M. Bernier: See, I told you we'd go quickly here. Is the minister aware of the Composite group?
Hon. M. Mungall: Not that I know of. That doesn't sound familiar.
M. Bernier: Is the minister aware of a staff member that worked for her named Laurie Wynn Stanley?
Hon. M. Mungall: Laurie Wynn Stanley was hired not by myself, but she was a temporary ministerial assistant when we first formed government.
M. Bernier: Laurie Wynn Stanley was working in the minister's office, then — we've confirmed that — for a partial, brief period of time. The minister confirmed that. Under the terms of contract, what was her role?
Hon. M. Mungall: She was a ministerial assistant.
M. Bernier: Can the minister just quickly explain, then, what usually are the roles of ministerial assistants?
Hon. M. Mungall: I'll just further elaborate. She was a ministerial assistant until, I believe, sometime in September or October. Her role was, first off, as a new minister, to help get things settled.
She was actually a sole staff person for well over 30 days, and so she provided a lot of scheduling support, a lot of correspondence support. She helped arrange initial briefings so I could be briefed on the transition binders and all the transitional information from the previous government to this government. She helped in terms of setting up meetings and any preparatory work for those meetings. That was the nature of her duties.
M. Bernier: I'm just not sure exactly how long this individual worked. Under the OIC, just to put on the record, she was signed up for a salary of $94,500. I'm not sure how much of that was actually charged out or not and kind of irrelevant to the point. Is it normal for a ministerial assistant to execute contracts?
Hon. M. Mungall: I'm not too sure what he means by contracts — to execute contracts with consultants within the ministry, execute contracts on a personal note for herself with someone else outside of her work duties? If he could elaborate.
M. Bernier: Sure. Well, where I'm going with this is we have a staff person who was working in the minister's office for a period of time during transition that was hired by this now government — working for this minister — that was in charge of helping with transition, it sounds like, from what the minister was saying. What I'm asking is: is it normal for someone in the role of a ministerial assistant to be executing contracts by trying to hire people to do things for the minister?
Hon. M. Mungall: I would say it is…. It wouldn't be uncommon for someone in her previous position to take on administrative duties that are required in that particular time frame to fulfil her job duties. Like I said, for well over a month — I said for about, over, 30 days — she was the only staff person I had within the ministry office. She might have conducted activities that you would normally find with an administrative coordinator, for example, or somebody else, simply because there was nobody else.
M. Bernier: During that time, then, is she aware of the fact that Ms. Stanley allowed for a contract to be worked on for $200 an hour, for $5,000, to an NDP insider, Marvin Shaffer, to actually redo the transition binder, which the minister already had?
Hon. M. Mungall: When I first started as minister, I think anybody can understand that there was a lot of information that I needed to get up to speed on in a very, very short order. A lot of the information was quite new to me. So I approved a contract with Marvin Shaffer. I'm sure if the member has FOI'd that information, he would see my signature on it.
I approved a contract with Marvin Shaffer not because he's been described as an NDP insider by the member opposite, but because he's one of the leading energy economists in B.C. and knows energy files inside and out. I was seeking his help to better understand the transitional information that was given to me, which was, I'd say, about six inches thick. It was quite dense material, and he provided a lot of insight and a lot of expertise in better understanding it.
M. Bernier: I appreciate that when the minister is new in a role…. I know what that's like. I've been there. Of course, in the role she's in now, I've read her binders and understand — probably, maybe, not to the extent that the minister does. But I'm well aware of a lot that goes on within that ministry.
Where I'm going with this, though is: does the minister feel it's appropriate that her ministerial staff…? We did FOI. We did get information. One of the challenges I have, though…. I want the minister's comment on this. Does she feel it's appropriate that this was done through the Composite group, who her ministerial staff actually is a principal on and was since 1996?
When we FOI'd to get information on this, in fact, it came back that it was being done by this individual, her ministerial assistant, through her, through her company and through her company's email. Does she feel that's appropriate?
Hon. M. Mungall: I don't know what kind of information the member has. I'm not going to start making accusations or making conclusions or anything like that without having a full understanding of all the information that he has, nor hearing from the people that he's implicating in his line of questioning.
That being said, if he's concerned about an email address that may have been used that was not a government email address, I should let him know that many of us did not have a government email address several weeks into being government. Often several staff and MLAs had to use personal email addresses to actually conduct business, not because that's what we wanted to do but because there was no other option.
M. Bernier: Is the minister, then, condoning…? She's saying that it's okay for her staff —who also owns a consulting group that is sometimes used, or was, by the ministry and who has people working for this Composite group who are actually former NDP MLAs as well — to be using private business emails to conduct ministerial business?
Hon. M. Mungall: What I am saying is that when you have no other email address because the government IT department has not set one up for you and you need to conduct business…. You're in a new contract, you have a request from your employer — that is that "I need help with this" — you need to find that help, and yet you still don't have an email address. You might have to use your personal email address, whether it's at the Composite group, at Gmail, at Telus, at Shaw, at Yahoo, at Hotmail — whatever it is.
Yeah, it's unfortunate that IT was struggling to get all these emails up and running — a big job for them, though. I understand why it was. And I understand why somebody might have to use their personal email because they had no another option but to do so.
M. Bernier: Did the minister attend a conference…? October 27, the minister was asked to attend a conference that was actually being put on by the same Composite Public Affairs group. Did she attend that conference that they asked her to attend?
Hon. M. Mungall: No.
M. Bernier: I appreciate that. I know the minister didn't attend. She was planning to attend. In fact, can she confirm that she probably received an email from the Premier's office suggesting she doesn't?
Hon. M. Mungall: I was neither here nor there in terms of whether or not to attend that particular conference. The Premier's office advice was that it would be best not to, which was fine with me because I was actually looking forward to going back to my constituency that weekend.
M. Bernier: Maybe the minister can explain why, then. I mean, we get invited to conferences all the time to speak, so why would this one, all of a sudden, get direction from the Premier's office not to attend?
Hon. M. Mungall: You'd have to ask the Premier that question in the Premier's estimates. I know that I got an email suggesting that there was no need for me to go. And as I said, it was fine by me, because I was looking forward to getting back to my constituency that weekend.
M. Bernier: One of the easy ways, then, the minister can put this issue to bed…. If she's trying to say that she, I assume, doesn't condone companies or employees doing work on private emails unless, as she's trying to say to the House, they had no choice, that is an interesting line of defence. It's easy to clear it up. Will the minister put this forward, then, to the conflict commissioner to look at?
Hon. M. Mungall: I don't have all the information that the member clearly seems to have. Whether it's appropriate to put it forward to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner or not, I can't say one way or another.
M. Bernier: Well, the minister does have the information. She just acknowledged that she had this staff person working for her in her employ. She did acknowledge, I believe, that this person worked for this Composite group. The minister did acknowledge that it's possible that they were using their private emails because they didn't have government emails.
She did acknowledge that this person probably let out contracts which might have been, now, on private emails. Those squarely fly in the face of all of the rules we have in government that you can't do.
Now, if the minister is trying to say that there's a reason for all this, then, is she willing to send it to the Conflict of Interest Commission just to verify and clear the issue up?
Hon. M. Mungall: Like I said, he says that I have all this information. I don't. I don't know what email Lori Winstanley would have used to seek out various experts to see if they were available to help me go through all of these transition binders. I don't even know what email she would have used. If he has copies of her emails, then, perhaps he'd like to share them. We can look at them at that time and determine if seeking input from the Conflict of Interest Commissioner is the appropriate way to go.
M. Bernier: Well, I'm going to, I guess, take the minister at face value and say…. From her earlier comments when we first started, if she became aware of anything, she would deal with it. Hopefully, now she is aware of something that was inappropriate. She will do the due diligence. The minister will do the research, and the minister will find out.
Even though I have, I shouldn't have to supply the minister with this information. I have put it on the record. It is about 30 seconds for her to verify this when she gets back to her office. The minister should be doing the right thing as a representative of the Crown, as a minister, of ensuring that this activity doesn't happen.
If it was appropriate, then, she can make it clear and say: "Here are the reasons why." If it was inappropriate, it should be looked at by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. Will she actually do that work as the minister, do her job as the minister, verify this and do the appropriate action?
Hon. M. Mungall: I have the distinct impression that the member opposite is trying to find something where something doesn't exist. Again, I was really clear that a lot of people, when they were first hired during that transition phase, did not have government email addresses. So whether her email address was at Composite group, and that's her personal email address that she used…. Many people have only one email address. I mean, a lot of us as MLAs have, goodness, four or five. But a lot of people in this world actually only have one.
If she was using her business email address for all of her personal work and that was the only email address that she had, I don't understand why the member would think that that's such a terrible thing. That being said, maybe if she had a Gmail account, she might have been using a Gmail account. I don't know which account she might have been using, because the member has not shared any of that type of information with us here.
That being said, if there's some wrongdoing by a person who no longer works for government…. I don't have any authority to conduct any disciplinary action whatsoever, because she no longer works for government.
M. Bernier: Well, I appreciate the minister trying to make that distinction, but that's actually not her call to make. That's the Conflict of Interest Commissioner's call to make. In fact, when Ms. Winstanley was working with the ministry, she had a ministry address because she was able to dictate information and email the deputy minister at the same time that she was able to use her private email to get contracts for the minister to an NDPer.
All I'm trying to say is that the minister has a responsibility here as a member of the Crown, as a minister, when something is brought to her attention, to bring it forward. Now, whether she wants to say she knew or didn't know, it doesn't matter. It's irrelevant now. The minister has to research this and has to bring it forward to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
If she's not willing to do it, then she's not fulfilling her duties as the Crown. So will she do this and send it through to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to review? If it's nothing, like the minister is trying to say, it should be very easy. Conflict of Interest will write back to her and say it's absolutely nothing. "Nothing to see here," as the Premier likes to say all the time on issues. So will she do that?
Hon. M. Mungall: I believe I've answered this question multiple times, actually. With the short time that we have, I don't know if the member would like to move on. But I have said that if he'd like to share the information that he has, which I do not have, then I'd take a look at it, and then I would determine if it's appropriate to be approaching the Conflict of Interest Commissioner.
M. Bernier: With all due respect to the minister, in the short time we do have, it's mine to choose what questions I ask, not the minister's. So I just respect the time we have and also ask the minister to answer the questions. She did not give me a straight answer. She ducked the question.
The minister has not said whether she'll send it to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. So we'll just have to wait and see if she actually follows through with that or if she's going to leave this as a void for other people to decide whether it was a perceived conflict of interest in that.
I'm just going to switch to LNG for a moment here. Obviously, today we had what we would agree was a great announcement with Petronas, with the acquirement of some shares, stakes, into the project in Kitimat with Shell and the consortium, LNG. Is the minister still as excited as we are on that?
Hon. M. Mungall: I am very encouraged with today's announcement from Petronas. They had actually never left their investments in Canada in terms of their operations in the North Montney area of B.C. For them to come back as a major joint venture partner in LNG Canada, I think shows not only the investment interest that exist in the world to invest here in Canada, to invest here in British Columbia, but it also shows the strength of this particular project.
Right now they're going through their final investment decision process, and I look forward to that coming to a conclusion. I hope that we'll be seeing a new industry here in British Columbia, an industry that First Nations, from well to tidewater, very much want to see, that they are very much are a part of.
They've communicated to me over and over and over again that they are partners with LNG Canada, and they have done their due diligence in researching the type of industry this is. They feel it's a good industry for British Columbia, and I agree.
M. Bernier: I'm just excited that the minister has found this new-found love for LNG that she and her government didn't have about a year ago. I mean, that's encouraging, definitely.
I guess my first question on that is: is that shared equally within her caucus? I know of at least three people who have actually signed petitions to try to stop it.
Hon. M. Mungall: I am very certain that the opinions and activities of other MLAs are not within the scope of the budget estimates debate, so I am not going to comment on the personal views of any other member of this House. In fact, I don't even need to be commenting on my own personal views, but I get asked, and so I share, to the best of my ability.
That being said, I will not be talking about other members of caucus or other MLAs anywhere in the House in terms of what their personal views may be on any item.
I believe that the petition that the member is referencing is actually a petition about the siting of the former Pacific NorthWest LNG project on Lelu Island. The community and the First Nations in the area felt that that was not an appropriate location, and the local representatives agreed with that.
What actually ended up happening from that was that Petronas took that feedback very seriously — which, to me, shows their value of First Nations input and feedback — and actually began to do work to site their project in a different location. Unfortunately, they made the decision to shut that project down before proceeding.
The Chair: Member, I would encourage you to direct your questions towards Vote 21, which is what we're discussing here.
M. Bernier: That's exactly what I'm asking, with all due respect, Chair, because I'm talking about the estimates. I'm talking about…. If I ask for the opinion of the minister…. Actually, the minister's opinion is valid. I know she always likes to say that it's not, but why would we need her to be the minister, then?
Does that mean if she's at the cabinet table, she doesn't have an opinion? At the cabinet table, she doesn't speak? She doesn't represent the ministry? She doesn't speak on behalf of LNG companies? She doesn't speak on behalf of mining companies?
Of course, the minister's personal opinion is important. If I ask questions on that, I hope I get a straightforward answer. But I'll try to do a little bit easier one for now. Has the minister ever met with company members, people from Petronas, in her time now as minister?
Hon. M. Mungall: Just for the record and just for anybody watching at home and just to make sure that we all understand the rules of this House, the budget estimates debate is actually a debate on budget and operations within the ministry. It's actually not a debate on anybody's personal opinion. Therefore, it generally is considered out of scope within this debate.
If members want to ask me my opinion via other mechanisms, they are more than welcome to do so. But let's just correct that, for the record, in terms of what is within the scope of this debate. That being said, I have answered questions about my personal views and personal opinion. To answer the member's question just now: yes, I have met with executives from Petronas.
The Chair: Member, I would encourage you again to try to stick your questions to Vote 21.
M. Bernier: I am, with all due respect, Chair. Thank you. I'll continue to do so.
The minister, then, has confirmed that she's met with them. Is it fair to say that they discussed their project and maybe, from time to time, might share confidential information with her?
Hon. M. Mungall: Yes.
M. Bernier: Did the minister sign any agreements, nondisclosure agreements, with any of the LNG companies?
Hon. M. Mungall: No.
M. Bernier: Okay. The minister has confirmed that she's heard confidential information. Does she think that at any time it would be appropriate, then, for her to release publicly any of that private information that she heard during those meetings?
Hon. M. Mungall: Well, it depends what the member's trying to get at here and what he's specifically trying to reference and what the general context was.
M. Bernier: I mean, it's very well known that the minister is excited about the announcement today, so excited that she's known about it for a while. In fact, the minister has hinted publicly about today's announcement in the past. Many in the investment world would call it forward-facing information that she has and that she's shared. Is the minister denying that she said anything publicly about today's announcement?
Hon. M. Mungall: No, I'm not making any denial, and I'm very curious as to how this impacts the ministry budget and operations.
The Chair: I would encourage the member to direct the questions towards Vote 21 related to the budget. Thank you.
M. Bernier: Which I am, hon. Chair, because as I'm asking these questions, they're completely pertinent to what's happening within the ministry. So I'll continue along with those lines of questioning, with all due respect, because it is pertinent. I know it might be uncomfortable for the minister. She might not want to answer them, but to keep telling me not to ask the question doesn't change the fact that I should have the right to ask them.
Is the minister acknowledging, then, that she's had these confidential meetings, that she's heard information that could be very sensitive? Because I've talked with some of these companies, I have information, and I haven't released it. They've told me that, by the way, this can't be talked about until it's released publicly because it could affect trading in the markets.
Now the minister has similar information. Has she shared some of that in the past?
Hon. M. Mungall: As I've said, Chair, I'm very confused at how this has to do with ministry budget and operations — in terms of what I have said publicly about a project that doesn't have a final investment decision, that does not actually currently have any boots on the ground in terms of an actual facility or any pipeline or anything like that. In terms of its generating revenue back to the province or any type of permitting that we need to do or so on, I haven't heard any questions about that.
Rather, these are questions about my conversations with a reporter about information that I may have or may not have had from a proponent of a project. I'm not too sure how this relates to Vote 21, and I would ask for your ruling on this and whether these questions are actually in order.
The Chair: I think what it's in order is: if the questions relate to the budget and operations of the ministry, then the questions are in order. Let's try to stick to that.
M. Bernier: Again, my point is that this is completely about the operations of the ministry and the minister — her doing her due diligence, her doing her job in a capacity as a minister of the Crown, as a member of cabinet who has sensitive and confidential information.
On May 1, the minister, actually, was quoted as saying: "To fully emphasize a point, Petronas is now investing in LNG Canada's project." That was three, four weeks before they actually publicly made the announcement. In fact, we had the company having to come out back-pedaling, because they had to deny, that that was not the case, and now they've had to come out and say, "Yes, in fact, it is," because they were worried about the comments, I would argue, that the minister made.
That affects the stock markets. That affects the integrity of the government. It also affects the credibility of the minister and the government. So of course it's relating to the operations.
Is the minister denying that she made those comments then?
Hon. M. Mungall: Again, I would seek the ruling from the Chair on this particular question, because, again, my view of the question is that it does not have to do with any of the budgetary items or the operational items of the ministry. It has nothing to do with permitting. It has nothing to do with any type of regulatory function. Rather, it is directed at personal activity, and that is actually not the function of the budget estimates debate.
M. Bernier: Not to make it awkward for the Chair and for everybody else as well, I am going to move on, recognizing the time. But I just do believe that the minister needs to remember that she does represent not only her ministry, but she represents the government. She represents the province.
The credibility of trust is incredibly important when we're talking about companies and investment in the province of British Columbia. If they cannot trust the government, they are not going to want to come here and invest very easily. So those are important questions that the minister needs to be aware of.
As we've been moving forward with LNG, what role does the minister actually play within the discussions and within the decision-making around LNG in B.C.?
Hon. M. Mungall: Very quickly, sorry. If the member could just repeat the last question there.
M. Bernier: Actually, it's not asking for your opinion either. It's actually asking: what's the minister's role as the government is moving forward to try to secure LNG in British Columbia?
Hon. M. Mungall: My overall role in terms of LNG — and the ministry as a whole, really — is to provide leadership in the broadest sense of the term.
For example, on this particular file, when I was informed earlier on that B.C. had a competitiveness issue in terms of liquefied natural gas and that if we wanted to develop the industry here, we were going to have to address those issues around our competitiveness, my role — and I fulfilled that role, and I fulfilled my duties — was: well, let's get to work. Let's see what it is that we can do to make B.C. more competitive on the global stage if we want to bring this industry here.
I also have a role to liaise with stakeholders. I also have a role to liaise with First Nations and to consult with them on this file, on any file, and so that's the function that I've provided.
M. Bernier: I don't want to minimize the minister's roles or duties when it comes to this. In fact, I would argue that this minister's role should be probably the most important one when it comes to LNG and that.
But when the LNG framework was announced by the Premier…. He was really excited to announce. He had the Minister of Finance. He had the minister's deputy minister. He had other people involved, but he never mentioned the minister for oil, gas, energy and mines, who, I feel, should be responsible in some way when the framework was being put together. The minister was left absent off that framework.
What role has the minister had, actually, with the framework since she wasn't listed or mentioned by the Premier?
Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of who took on the new framework for LNG and building B.C.'s competitiveness on the global stage for this industry, it was both this ministry and the Ministry of Finance that did the day-in and day-out work.
I don't want to take all the credit for what was amazing work done by staff. I was blown away at the due diligence, especially my deputy minister, who is sitting next to me today. He put in extremely long hours, a lot of sweat, a lot of thought and a lot of creativity into this. I don't want to steal away from giving him full credit for being the person who put the nose to the grindstone.
But which ministers were responsible in terms of providing leadership and being the entities who are responsible in terms of reviewing all the work and ensuring that the public interest was being met and providing that role in terms of not just leadership but also the connection back to the public? That was myself, absolutely, from the very beginning to the very end, and the Minister of Finance, as well, because a lot of the implications were tax implications as we looked at competitiveness.
If the member opposite is referring to the Premier's press event, I believe that was in January, and I was back in the constituency, pregnant, but nobody knew it at the time. Not only was I in the family way, but if he would like to hear all of my wonderful Castlegar Airport stories and the various cancellations that happen at that time of year, I'd be happy to share them. But maybe not in this venue, because it's very lengthy.
M. Bernier: Well, I've had the privilege of flying in and out of Castlegar as well, so I can appreciate what the minister goes through. And I do want to thank the minister for the acknowledgement of her staff. I have the utmost respect for her staff, especially her deputy minister and the work that he does and the advice and the guidance on this file. I trust that wholeheartedly.
As we're going through the LNG framework, what is the ministry and government thinking is going to happen in the LNG industry? We know we have one. Do they think one is possibly coming, as the minister alluded to — a possible FID, which we're all hoping for later on this year?
There were, at some times, 20-some-odd LNG projects on the books that were being reviewed, looking at permitting and being discussed. Where does the minister see the LNG industry going in B.C. with the discussions she's had? How many are they hoping to secure or achieve?
Hon. M. Mungall: We currently have what you could say are 18 different projects on the books. But in terms of which ones are going concerns that we're feeling are probably on their way to some success: LNG Canada, obviously, and Kitimat LNG. That's Chevron and Woodside. I'll let the member opposite know that I recently wrote a letter indicating this government's support for Kitimat LNG for when they are speaking with their investors, which they are doing all the time.
Then there's, of course, Woodfibre LNG and Kwispaa LNG, which recently changed its name from Steelhead. The member might be more familiar with their former name.
M. Bernier: To maybe discuss just quickly the one that's really a very large one but one of the most pertinent ones right now because of today's announcement…. The minister mentioned earlier in the comments, then, about all the support, especially First Nations support and community support. Can the minister explain what discussions — or what the thoughts are? How is the gas going to get to port?
Hon. M. Mungall: For LNG Canada, their project would rely on Coastal GasLink. That would be the pipeline that would take the gas from the northeast, from the member's region, to the facility, which would be located in Kitimat, very close to Rio Tinto — on their own property, actually.
M. Bernier: Is the minister aware, then, of…. Because obviously a concern that companies are going to have is: can we even build a pipeline? Is the minister aware of any challenges that they foresee — Coastal GasLink, TransCanada, any of the pipelines running in the north — to get the gas to Kitimat, where it's going to be needed?
Because we talked about First Nations support. It's my understanding that the companies have done an incredible amount of due diligence when it comes to acquiring First Nations support through consultation. Is that still the case, or does she see any protests or any issues that might come along?
Hon. M. Mungall: In terms of any issues. The member kept it broad, so I'm going to speak to some of those issues — government in terms of permitting and so on.
I have a lot of confidence in Coastal GasLink, that they will be doing their due diligence in making sure that they dot every i and cross every t in terms of the permitting process, and that government will therefore, then, be issuing permits. I'm not too concerned on that level. If concerns arise, we'll deal with them appropriately as the regulator, as they come along.
I know the member is likely aware of the Unist'ot'en healing camp, where people who are involved with the camp are very opposed to pipelines in general. They were opposed to the northern gateway pipeline, as a lot of the First Nations on the very same route were as well. But they are not opposed to this pipeline, nor are they opposed to this industry. There are some people within the Wet'suwet'en Nation who have put together this camp and who are opposed. It's their democratic right to express that opposition in a legal and lawful way.
That being said, the member knows that this government values, very strongly, reconciliation and building relationships — strong relationships, respectful relationships and meaningful relationships — with First Nations. That's precisely why we have already begun. Myself personally as well as the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation have reached out to the Wet'suwet'en Nation, both the hereditary chiefs and band councils, and started to have initial discussions to build that relationship.
That is where we are starting at, right now. Of course, the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, who's the MLA for that very area, has a very long-standing, multi-decade relationship with the nation. He continues to ensure that that is a good relationship. So we're working to build that relationship.
I would also note, if the member is unaware…. Witset, which was formerly Moricetown — their council has voted in favour of signing and implementing an impact-benefit agreement for this pipeline.
M. Bernier: I appreciate the minister saying it. I was aware, but thank you anyway.
I do acknowledge and recognize that people have a democratic right to voice their opinion — and as the minister said, "in a legally and lawful way."
Is the minister willing, then, to go on the record and say that any unlawful, illegal activity will not be condoned, and this government and her ministry will take a stand against that?
Hon. M. Mungall: I think that we would do that in any situation, wherever that took place. I think it's very important that civil disobedience and the democratic right to freedom of assemble and freedom of speech is something I hold near and dear. I've been on picket lines myself. But it's absolutely imperative that we uphold the rule of law and that violence is not condoned.
Sorry. I could go on, but I'll let you ask a question.
M. Bernier: Maybe I'll say something to the minister so she can keep going, then. I do appreciate the comments.
Again, I find it a little bit challenging in light of what's happening with another pipeline project in the southern part of B.C., where some people are recognizing their legal, lawful right to oppose a project and others are not. I don't see any leadership from this government on that pipeline project — stepping out and condemning the actions of those people.
Why would it be okay for one project and one pipeline and not another one?
Hon. M. Mungall: I have heard the Premier and other ministers and MLAs say on numerous occasions and numerous times that any illegal activity and violence, in particular, will not be condoned in terms of the Kinder Morgan pipeline or any type of activity.
I would again say that in terms of whether it's this pipeline in Burnaby or it's a pipeline in the north or it's any other type of project, violence that would result in, especially, harm to workers who may be working — to whatever, whether they're siting or whether they're actually building — and anything that could harm other people is just absolutely unacceptable. It's just absolutely unacceptable. It is illegal, and people who conduct that would be arrested, and they would be prosecuted according to the law.
M. Bernier: I was actually giving the minister an opportunity to have a soapbox there. To date, I actually hadn't heard the minister — who I feel is responsible, again, for this — make any public comments on that. So I do appreciate it. I do know the minister's personal background, from what she's shared, anyway.
I do appreciate, again, that people have the democratic, legal, lawful right to have a difference of opinion and to be able to express that. But, again, I'm hoping….
On whatever project it is, companies need certainty. Companies need to know that government has got their back if they're going to invest. They need to know that if something is happening that is unlawful, whether people agree to it or not, they can't come out and do unlawful acts. Government and the courts should be doing the appropriate action, and government has to have leadership there, so I appreciate the minister's comments.
I know we're almost out of time, but I want to make sure I ask a few more questions since we're on LNG still. With the announcement today and with the hopeful FID announcement later this year, does the government intend or have to come back to the House to change any of the former acts, laws that were created by the previous government around LNG strategy?
Hon. M. Mungall: Our written commitment to LNG Canada is that, should they have a positive FID — so that's if that FID takes place, not before, but if we get an FID — we will have to take on some legislative activities, repealing the LNG Income Tax Act.
There will also be some other orders that we will have to do in an effort to meet our commitments to the industry should a positive FID take place.
M. Bernier: Can the minister explain, then, why she'd have to repeal the LNG Income Tax Act?
Hon. M. Mungall: This is one of the many tools that the member would find in our new framework on LNG. It's part of our commitment to the industry, and so we would need to follow through on that commitment.
M. Bernier: Well, I appreciate that. It didn't quite answer the question. Of course, there's a commitment. What does that commitment look like?
The reason I'm asking is…. The minister — we're still somewhat on speaking terms, I hope, at the end of this — and the opposition at the time, before they were government, were very vocal on the LNG Income Tax Act, and other acts that were brought in to support the LNG industry, that we were giving the farm away. We were just, like, doing all this stuff that was going to hurt the people of British Columbia. We were not going to generate enough revenue. We were actually letting companies just walk all over us.
Is the minister actually looking at the LNG Income Tax Act and others to actually make those rules stricter and to actually generate more revenue — like they said when they were in opposition that we should be doing?
Hon. M. Mungall: A lot on the global stage around natural gas and LNG has changed since 2014. I believe that was the year that the LNG Income Tax Act was first introduced. Those changes that have happened in the global marketplace resulted in B.C. becoming quite uncompetitive.
We've addressed those competitive issues, and in that mix was repealing this Income Tax Act. If we wanted to bring this industry here and be competitive — recognizing the place that we're in today in 2018 rather than the place that we wish we were in back in 2014 — we had to make adjustments.
M. Bernier: I had to check my pulse there for a second to make sure I was actually awake, and I'm still alive for that comment. Because I'm having these amazingly horrific flashbacks of this minister and the now Premier and others, who stood up here and said, when we put in the LNG Income Tax Act, that it wasn't enough, that we should have done more. Now I'm hearing that in order to be competitive, we should be getting rid of it. At the time, we said it was competitive, that we should be having it to generate revenue for the people of British Columbia.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm probably one of the most fierce LNG and natural gas advocates in the province. But it's also one of these things that I find quite hypocritical, from this minister and this government, that in order to get LNG, they're saying we have to actually give away even more, because they're saying now times have changed. What benefits, can the minister say, is LNG going to bring to British Columbia, then?
Hon. M. Mungall: In the interest of time, I'll try and keep the list short in terms of the benefits to British Columbia from LNG Canada's projects, specifically. I'm not even going to go into the entire industry.
I'm sure that in his lifetime, the member has had opportunities to change his mind, change his perspective, recognizing that where he might end up is different than where he was earlier. I think all good representatives should always be live to not sticking in the mud and staying the same — not being static but being dynamic — especially when they're presented with new information.
What are the benefits of LNG Canada's potential project to British Columbia? First off, the revenue side is $22 billion to B.C. alone over 40 years. That's not including to local governments or to the federal government or to First Nations. That's just to British Columbia. And 5,000 construction jobs, 800 to 900 permanent high-paying family-supporting jobs.
We have 19 signed impact-and-benefits agreements with First Nations. I don't have the total of what those are, but they're very significant — and, I would say, meaningful partnerships with First Nations in this initiative, in this endeavour. That's not my opinion. That's the opinion of First Nations who have made it one of their top priorities to come and tell me that.
Skills training to First Nations that are also outside of the impact-and-benefits agreements, skills that they'll be able to transfer from jobs that they might be able to get in the construction phase to other potential jobs. That's just a short list of some of the benefits that B.C. specifically will realize.
M. Bernier: I recognize time has wound up. I guess I just wanted to thank the minister and thank her staff. My only closing tongue-in-cheek comment to the minister there was…. As somebody who was working with the LNG advocate and doing all that, it was vaguely familiar, reading out all of the benefits, because I remember listing off almost the exact same list when I was in government to the then opposition.
I do want to thank the minister and her staff for the last couple of days with myself and colleagues who have gotten up. I do know how much work goes in by staff and apologize to staff and other people who were very eager, I'm sure, to help the minister with questions we didn't get to, who probably put a lot of time and effort into being ready. So I apologize to them that we didn't have time to get to it and thank the minister for her candidness and, again, wish her well as we go forward this summer.
Hon. M. Mungall: At this time, as we're wrapping up, I want to thank all ministry staff, all B.C. Hydro staff, all staff at Oil and Gas Commission, not only for the work that they do to make estimates possible, putting together an incredible amount of information for me so that we can provide that information to the members opposite, but also being at the ready. For example, when a member asks a question and we don't have the answer at our fingertips, there is somebody who is not in this building, who is not sitting next to me, who is at their desk watching estimates — I thank you for just doing that alone — and getting that information so that we can provide it back to the member in the most timely fashion, sometimes within just a few minutes. So I really want to appreciate the work that they're doing as well.
I am so fortunate that the team that I've inherited is definitely, I think, one of the A-teams in government. They are amazing, hard-working people. I am continually impressed with their professionalism and their dedication to the people of British Columbia. I'm so grateful for all that they do with the estimates process — and what they do year round. So I just want to let British Columbians know that they are very, very fortunate for the staff that they have in this ministry.
Thank you to the members opposite for their questions, for showing that accountability is very important and for making sure that we dive deep into these ministries so that the public is aware of all that's going on.
With that, I believe I'm supposed to close off debate.
Vote 21: ministry operations, $58,015,000 — approved.
Hon. M. Mungall: I move that the committee rise and report completion of the resolution and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 4:54 p.m.
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