In what looked and sounded like a road-test of her 2017 election campaign, Premier Christy Clark used her annual speech to municipal leaders Wednesday to announce new funds for water systems and benefits for forest firefighters.
Speaking to a packed room of local politicians at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria, Clark committed $148 million to a clean water and wastewater fund for communities. That funds a third of the costs, with federal contributions raised to 50 per cent, leaving local governments to raise the remainder.
Clark praised B.C. Government Employees’ Union president Stephanie Smith for pushing to extend her union’s benefits to seasonal forest fire-fighters, several of whom joined Clark and Smith to address the media after her speech. Smith said about 200 firefighters will receive benefits this year, and more in future years.
Clark also announced an additional $10 million to support a drug addiction treatment centre, research and health care training in response to the growing opioid overdose epidemic that has spread from B.C. across the country.
Clark touted the benefits of the Pacific Northwest LNG project in northwestern B.C., which was given federal approval this week. Taking questions after the speech, she would not predict when the Petronas-led group of Asian investors would proceed with the $36 billion investment, but said China and India in particular are anxious to move to natural gas as a cleaner fuel.
NDP leader John Horgan described Clark’s speech as a repackaging of her 2013 election campaign, with “B.C. first” replacing “families first” and a promise to eliminate operating debt replacing one to pay off all debt with natural gas revenues.
Horgan said the province needs to renew its focus on the forest industry. A sawmill in Merritt has announced it’s closing due to a lack of logs, while record log exports are being shipped out from coastal forests, he said.
“If we can send raw logs to Asia, we can get them up the Coquihalla,” Horgan said.
Clark said the B.C. and federal governments are focused on reaching a new lumber trade agreement with the United States, which appears poised to impose new duties on Canadian lumber as the old agreement runs out in October.