Premier Christy Clark applauds Finance Minister Mike de Jong's budget speech, February 2016.

BC VIEWS: A bitter election year begins

NDP will focus on corporate donations and environment, B.C. Liberals play economy card that worked in 2013

There is a nasty edge to proceedings as the B.C. legislature session winds down this week, with the 2017 election campaign already effectively underway.

Premier Christy Clark and B.C. Liberal ministers have been under attack over their links to big corporate donors, which will be a major theme for the NDP in the next year. You’ll hear more about forest companies West Fraser and Canfor, which escaped without fines after a 2014 audit found they over-cut their northern timber licences by close to one million cubic metres.

Much of this was during salvage logging for pine beetle damage, where healthy trees were taken as well, at a time when forest companies were consolidating, trading Crown timber rights and closing sawmills.

NDP MLA David Eby, who knocked Clark out of her Vancouver-Point Grey seat even as she was winning a fourth straight B.C. Liberal majority in 2013, has put the media focus on her posh private fundraisers.

“Was this decision made at a dinner party?” Eby asked of the leniency to forest companies, prompting a rare “out of order” ruling from Speaker Linda Reid.

Even before the last election and the later Mount Polley tailings dam collapse, the NDP was on the attack about Clark’s support from the chief executive of mine owner Imperial Metals, who also has major Alberta oilsands holdings and has been one of the B.C. Liberals’ biggest donors.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett was as indignant as Forests Minister Steve Thomson at the suggestion these corporations were getting lenient treatment in exchange for political cash.

Bennett points out that the Mount Polley dam was inspected and permitted in the mid-1990s under an NDP government, with a design flaw that went undetected. And it remains to be seen what if any charges or fines result against the company, which is already paying a steep price with a long shutdown and expensive environmental repairs.

It also remains to be seen if Bennett, Thomson and other cabinet veterans will run for another term, after what will be 16 years in government.

Bennett is adept at needling the NDP, reminding them that mining giant Teck Resources managed to find almost $60,000 to donate to them. He referred to John Horgan as the “ceremonial leader of the NDP,” implying that Horgan has lost an internal struggle in a party that has turned away from its industrial worker roots.

Horgan was a reluctant replacement after Adrian Dix flamed out in 2013 with the sudden Earth Day declaration to oppose the TransMountain oil pipeline expansion. This may have won Eby his upset in leafy Point Grey, but the decision and a wordless weather-vane ad lost Dix the province.

One of the traditional highlights of the spring session is the premier’s spending estimates, where the opposition gets several hours to grill the premier on political staff, private jets and anything else they want.

Horgan kicked this off last week with his familiar list of criticisms on increased BC Hydro and medical services premiums, soaring house prices in Metro Vancouver and the state of seniors’ care, plus a lengthy examination of Clark’s recent trip to Haida Gwaii.

Clark treated the exercise mainly as an extension of question period, firing back at Horgan on his apparent inability to lead his own caucus in support of major construction projects.

Horgan abruptly threw in the towel at the end of the first of what had been scheduled to be two days, and fled to Whistler for meetings that were suddenly more important than his legislature duties.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: Twitter: @tomfletcherbc


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