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Les Leyne: Clark finds money for goodies and talks tough on pipeline

Sep 29 2012

Premier Christy Clark had a tough act to follow when she took the stage at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention Friday.

Opposition leader Adrian Dix made a very appealing pitch the previous day.

He scooped himself moments later by admitting to reporters he would scrap the balanced-budget law if elected. That prompted a lot of wonderment among delegates. But his speech prior to that lurch was low-key, friendly, modest.

Many people listening to him were sitting back and trying to picture him as premier. He talked about taking the high road, earned a few brownie points on municipal issues and took some gentle shots at the government. When he finished, a number of listeners could grasp the image.

But Clark held her own, with a solid speech that blitzed delegates with good news from start to finish. A lot of it was based on good old-fashioned blacktop politics. That never gets old in B.C. The reason it is such a traditional move is because it often works.

When Finance Minister Mike de Jong released an update two weeks ago, spending was being curtailed and austerity was the order of the day.

His report said almost one billion dollars were being cut over three years, although projects approved or announced were exempt.

When Clark stood up before hundreds of municipal leaders, it turned out there was still enough money lying around to make an impact.

She scraped together $207 million from scrimping on other parts of the wish list and started throwing it around the room.

It includes a new interchange in Surrey, a round of school building and other assorted projects that will be rolled out in coming months.

She also committed $650 million over the next decade - now that's confidence - to four-lane the Trans-Canada Highway from Kamloops to Alberta.

There was also a promise to start scoping and conceptualizing a replacement for the Massey Tunnel in Delta.

If Clark can't find her way clear to spend highway money on Vancouver Island - and she can't - the tunnel is the next best thing.

Every Swartz Bay ferry passenger headed for Vancouver takes a deep breath when plunging into that relic.

"It drives people crazy," said Clark.

They'll have to hold their breath for 10 more years before it's replaced, but the promise has been made.

Clark continued the blitz with even better news: the labour dispute with the B.C. Government and Services Employees' Union had been settled.

The Liberal government caved on the clumsy, politically suspect liquor-distribution privatization plan. It had become a stopper in the negotiations and removing it eased the way.

They now have a tentative deal - a four per cent wage increase for employees, and labour peace for the government.

Apart from the liquor issue, de Jong's earlier warning that the mandate would be reviewed because of a revenue slump might have caught the union's attention and contributed to the breakthrough.

Clark's final pitch to the delegates was about the contentious Northern Gateway pipeline project. Earlier, delegates voted almost evenly for and against a resolution regarding tanker traffic, reflecting how split the province is.

Clark addressed that with her toughest talk yet. The B.C. government is still open to the pipeline, but her outline of the conditions set earlier is sounding steadily firmer.

"As of now, the risk of heavy oil far outweighs the benefits that our province would see.

"Right now, it's a bad deal for B.C.

"Yes we do deserve our fair share of benefits. But there is no price that we can put on our environment. There is no amount of money that can make up for an unacceptable risk when it comes to our oceans, our coast and our land."

She said if the conditions aren't met, "the Enbridge pipeline won't be built. Period."

Clark summed up the mammoth Plan B option - a huge investment in liquefied natural gas, as follows: "I have never seen a seagull wash up on the coast covered in natural gas."

Clark is pitching everything she can. Dix - with Thursday's exception - is still being circumspect.

Local politicians left the hall Friday with lots to think about.

> De Jong says there will be no spending spree, A3

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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