British Columbians need to have an “adult” conversation about the extent to which they rely on oil and gas industries, Joan McIntyre says.
Participants of the Squamish Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Wednesday (June 27) asked the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA for her thoughts on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline — a controversial proposal to transport oil by pipeline from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, B.C.
The Enbridge energy company's project is currently before the National Energy Board. McIntyre aligns herself with the official government position and said she wants the process to proceed.
Every applicant has the right to have their project reviewed, McIntyre said. The risks and benefits will be weighed and a decision made.
“At some time, we may well intervene,” she said, adding that she expects the issue will be one of the main discussion topics in next year's provincial election.
There is a big disconnect between rural and urban areas when it comes to the proposal, McIntyre said. Oil and gas jobs are important to many families living outside the Lower Mainland, she told The Chief, with the average mining employee making $100,000 annually.
B.C.'s historic money-maker has been eroding in recent years, McIntyre noted. Once more than half of the total value of the province's international goods export, in 2008 forestry accounted for just 30 per cent of the total.
Energy and industrial goods, however, have been on the rise. Between 1990 and 2008, the total gross domestic product (GDP) in mining, oil and gas extraction expanded by 80 per cent.
“It isn't our tourism or our film industry carrying us,” McIntyre said.
Mining, oil and gas industries are significant contributer to supporting the provincial health care and educational programs, she said. Medical and educational services make up 70 per cent of the province's budget, she said, noting that close 45 cents of every dollar is put toward health care.
“Our personal income taxes are just over a third of our health care budget alone,” McIntyre said, noting the cost of health care is currently around $17 billion.
Oil and gas exploration royalties have been contributing significantly to the provincial treasury, she said. A dollar in the price of natural gas, either up or down, equates to approximately $300 million into the treasury.
The province has the historic opportunity to develop a new industry in the natural gas sector, McIntyre said, as liquefied natural gas is being sought after globally.
“There is a worldwide race to get there,” McIntyre said.
There's a push to sell to Asia. Australia is leading the charge and Russia has also thrown its hat into the ring. Shell, along with three energy firms, plans to invest approximately $12 billion in a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Kitimat.
“We have a huge amount of natural gas in Canada,” McIntyre said.
Overall, B.C. has weathered the global economic recession well, she said, adding this helps attract investors and companies interested in the province's resources.
“Canada is looking like a safe harbour,” McIntyre said.
In February, a North Shore News report on McIntyre's public disclosure statements for 2011 revealed that the MLA owns shares in a number of oil and gas and mining companies including Enbridge, Encana, Pembina Pipeline, Cenovus Energy and Sherritt International.