Predictions 2021: Site C dam and LNG will create headaches for B.C. premier John Horgan

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      Nobody at the Georgia Straight has a crystal ball on their desk. Nor do we make claims of having a Nostradamus-style view of the future.

      But we can make educated guesses. And here are five predictions about what may unfold in the world of B.C. politics in 2021.

      Site C and LNG will dog Horgan

      Two of the biggest decisions made in John Horgan’s first term as premier concerned the approvals of the Site C dam in northeastern B.C. and the LNG Canada plant in Kitimat. Both will increasingly feel like millstones around his neck in the coming year.

      The cost of the Site C dam has ballooned over the $12-billion mark just as renewable-energy prices are crashing through the floor. There are geotechnical issues with the dam that have the project’s critics calling for cancellation.

      But Horgan and his private-sector union backers will never want to halt the Site C dam. That, in turn, will help recharge the B.C. Greens, who remain opposed.

      There are parallels between Horgan’s support for the dam and the money-losing northeast coal project forced through by a former premier, Bill Bennett, during tough economic times.

      Meanwhile, the LNG Canada project also faces some real difficulties, in part because of a worldwide glut of natural gas. It’s not quite as politically toxic to Horgan as the Site C dam because it’s a private-sector project led by Royal Dutch Shell’s Canadian subsidiary.

      But it’s still an uphill battle for the consortium to make a profit. And it’s not out of the question that this project could be mothballed for a few years if its backers feel it’s not financially viable right now.

      Were that to happen, it would have a devastating result on B.C. Hydro finances. That’s because the Crown utility is banking on the Site C dam’s power meeting the B.C. LNG industry’s demand for electricity.

      Postsecondary problems

      In recent years, B.C. colleges, institutes, and universities have relied heavily on international students to help pay the bills. But the pandemic has blown apart their budgets.

      To cite one example, UBC expects a $225-million deficit. That’s due in part to an expected $138-million decline in tuition fees.

      Institutions across the province are going to want to jack up tuition. But students will be in no mood to pay more for virtual education than they used to pay for face-to-face instruction.

      Finance Minister Selina Robinson will face some very difficult choices as she wrestles with a projected $13.6-billion deficit—the largest in B.C. history.

      Holding the line on Ministry of Advanced Education expenditures is one way of downloading the problem to the colleges, institutes, and universities rather than facing a showdown with the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union.

      Normally, the Ministry of Advanced Education flies under the radar in provincial politics. Expect that to change in 2021.

      That might have the former minister, Melanie Mark, feeling relieved that this portfolio has been transferred to Anne Kang, the MLA for Burnaby–Deer Lake. Mark now oversees tourism, culture, and sports.

      B.C. Liberals will not choose a new leader in 2021

      After the Opposition party’s shellacking in October, it’s going to take some time for B.C.’s largest right-wing party to find its footing.

      It took a step in the right direction when the caucus chose Prince George–Valemont MLA and former deputy premier Shirley Bond as the interim leader.

      Almost immediately, Bond had the new NDP government on the defensive over its decision to cut COVID benefits for low-income people.

      She’s a wily veteran who knows that the B.C. Liberals desperately need to show some heart, as well as some sensitivity toward environmental issues. Expect her to go after the NDP in the coming year on some environmental issue, possibly on Vancouver Island or in the Lower Mainland, where the B.C. Liberals are particularly weak.

      In the meantime, her party will take its time before starting the next leadership race, giving any newcomers more time to sign up members.

      Andrew Wilkinson will resign his seat

      For now, Andrew Wilkinson remains the B.C. Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena, which is one of the safest B.C. Liberal seats in the province.

      But the B.C. Liberal leader’s party was so thoroughly thrashed in the last election that there’s not really much point for him to spend four of his last working years zipping back and forth between Vancouver and Victoria to sit on the Opposition benches of the legislature.

      He’ll wait a little while, perhaps so he can play a role in helping determine who will be the B.C. Liberal candidate in his wealthy West Side constituency after he’s gone.

      Mable Elmore’s star will rise

      Premier John Horgan’s decision not to appoint Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore to cabinet caused considerable upset among Filipino-Canadian groups.

      While it may have caught Horgan by surprise, it also reflected the community’s feeling that its contributions to Canada have been taken for granted.

      It was particularly painful in the year of the pandemic, when many immigrants from the Philippines worked so hard and at great risk as caregivers in seniors facilities. Elmore is the only MLA ever elected in B.C. with a parent born in the Philippines.

      Horgan heard the community’s reaction very clearly. Don’t be surprised if Elmore finds herself in cabinet before the year is over should any vacancies arise.