Burnaby council is home to progressive civic politicians with impressive credentials as New Democrats. Coun. Sav Dhaliwal is one of them.
Now in his fourth term, Dhaliwal was president of the B.C. NDP a few years ago. According to the councillor, he remains a “very involved member and activist”. But there’s an issue on which Dhaliwal and his colleagues don’t fully agree with the provincial party: fracking.
The B.C. NDP is largely supportive of the gas industry and its controversial extraction method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. If New Democrats win the election scheduled for May this year, Dhaliwal promises one thing.
“If they do form government, we’ll put their feet to the fire on this one,” Dhaliwal told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview on February 19.
At the council meeting the previous night, Dhaliwal seconded a motion by Coun. Dan Johnston that calls for a moratorium on fracking. Burnaby council wants a comprehensive examination of the impacts of drilling deep through rock beds and injecting pressurized water, sand, and chemicals to release gas underground.
Even though Burnaby is nowhere near the gas wells of the northern region of B.C. and fracking is not a municipal matter, Dhaliwal emphasized that the city has to take a stand, as it did in the past on other noncivic issues such as international trade, health care, and child poverty.
“As part of a larger community, we have this responsibility to ensure that both the environmental and social issues that affect us all on a larger scale are generally talked about,” he said.
Incidentally, Dhaliwal and Johnston, along with Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan and councillors Colleen Jordan and Nick Volkow, endorsed (now energy critic) John Horgan when the Malahat–Juan de Fuca MLA ran in 2011 for the leadership of the B.C. NDP.
An immediate moratorium on fracking doesn’t appear to be on the agenda for the party. On November 30, 2011, the B.C. NDP announced that leader Adrian Dix and the New Democrats were “committed to a plan that ensures long-term sustainability and environmental quality in B.C.’s expanding natural gas fields”. In August 2012, Horgan told the Straight in a phone interview that his party supports the expansion of B.C.’s gas industry, which, he said, is “mature here, as opposed to other places where they’ve had concerns”.
At the Burnaby council chamber last Monday evening, Corrigan indicated that he hasn’t spoken to Horgan but he knows that the energy critic is “favourably disposed” toward fracking.
“I don’t know that the research has been so thorough as for John Horgan to come to a final conclusion on it,” Corrigan told the Straight. “I think he wants to keep the door open. But I don’t know that he’s said, ‘I’m going to those go-aheads as soon as I get into office.’ I think he’ll find there’s opposition within his own party to him moving ahead too quickly.”
A report to council prepared by Burnaby city staff notes that Quebec has a moratorium on fracking as well as on oil and gas exploration under the St. Lawrence River. Nova Scotia isn’t approving new fracking projects until it completes a review in 2014. According to the report, New Brunswick had a report done that notes that the province should proceed with a “phased-in approach”.
Premier Christy Clark and her B.C. Liberal government have staked the province’s future on natural gas, a direction that has not been fundamentally challenged by the B.C. NDP.
In the throne speech last February 12, the government talked about a B.C. Prosperity Fund generating between $130 billion and
$260 billion from liquid natural gas revenues and a new tax on LNG over the next 30 years.
Clark indicated that the Prosperity Fund will help pay the province’s $56-billion debt and possibly even eliminate the sales tax as well as finance public education.
Royalties from natural gas are a major source of revenue for the province. In the 2013-14 budget unveiled at the legislative assembly on February 19, the government estimates gas royalties at $282 million for the fiscal year. It expects the amount to rise to $318 million in 2014-15, and $359 million in 2015-16.
Unlike B.C. Liberals, New Democrats, and Conservatives, the Green Party of B.C. backs a moratorium on fracking.
“The Liberals see it [gas revenues] as an immediate need, and the NDP see it as something that would expand in the future,” B.C. Green Leader Jane Sterk told the Straight in a phone interview. “Both of them support the industry.”