Justine Hunter, Globe and Mail, Tuesday, Feb. 09, 2010
Victoria, BC - The B.C. government is ramping up pressure on Ottawa to streamline environmental assessments, but at the same time has given in to demands to protect the Flathead River Valley from resource development.
Lieut. Gov. Steven L. Point delivers the Throne Speech at the
B.C. legislature in Victoria, B.C. on Feb. 9, 2010.
In its Speech from the Throne today, the province demanded a “one project, one process” agreement that will ensure that mining and other resource projects are not held up by environmental assessments duplicated at both levels of government.
“We cannot afford to hold investment and jobs hostage,” said the speech, read by Lieutenant-Governor Steven Point. “Byzantine bureaucratic practices have no place in the 21st Century.”
Minutes later, Mr. Point acknowledged the international concerns about protecting the Flathead River Valley in the southeastern corner of the province. The speech promised a new agreement with the State of Montana to sustain environmental values in the basin.
“Mining, oil and gas development and coalbed gas extraction will not be permitted in British Columbia's Flathead Valley,” the government promised.
Environmentalists have fought a B.C. government plan that would have opened the area to coal mining. As well, the State of Montana protested the scheme, fearing pollution could flow south in the Flathead River, which runs along the western border of Glacier National Park in the United States.
Elsewhere, however, the environmental assessment review process is in turmoil following a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling regarding the Red Chris Mine. The province completed its own environmental assessment but the subsequent federal review was challenged in court. The court found that Ottawa's review did not meet the requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
That ruling “demands immediate action to rationalize public approvals both within our government and between governments,” the throne speech stated.
“Currently, over $3-billion in provincially-approved projects are stranded in the mire of federal process and delay.”
As expected, the throne speech underscored the province's deficit woes, promising “innovations” in health care to reduce spending in the single most costly program in government.
“Stemming the unaffordable growth in health costs is essential in meeting our obligation to rebalance the budget by 2013,” Mr. Point read. “Several innovations will be introduced to give patients new choices, to reward performance in health delivery and to protect public health care for future generations.”
He mentioned plans for more public-private partnerships in health care in the name of fiscal discipline.
There were hints that the March 2 provincial budget may contain new tax breaks but the speech was thin on details, with one exception. The government promised a Family with Children Property Tax Deferral Option to allow B.C. families with children under the age of 18 to delay tax payments.
And, the province is sticking with its commitment to introduce all-day kindergarten. “There are few services that can do more to lift a child to the full opportunities of life than an unequivocally great education. That is our goal for all the children of British Columbia.”