Christy Clark:
Mining for Political Survival

Premier Christy Clark

Premier Christy Clark - Photo by Kris Krug, Flickr

With flagging poll numbers and rumbling within her own party, Premier Christy Clark risks losing her job in an election expected to happen in May 2013. And the BC Liberal Party faces an existential crisis which could see the ascendance of a new right-wing party.

The revived Conservative Party of BC, under the leadership of former Delta MP John Cummins, is gaining steam and already running over 20% in opinion polls.

The centre-right vote has not been this divided since the 1991 election, when the NDP surged to power over a discredited Social Credit Party and the short-lived BC Reform Party. Clark and her Liberals now stare squarely at the fate of the Socreds – defeat and obsolescence.

Faced with a potentially mortal challenge from her right, Clark has presented herself as a common sense pitchwoman for unequivocally pro-corporate policies.

Upon winning the Liberal leadership race last year, Clark announced that her number one priority in terms of relations with the federal government was to restart the Taseko Mines’ proposal for a copper and gold mine near Williams Lake. There are major environmental risks with the project, and the local Tsilhqot’in First Nations are resolutely opposed to the project.

The Taseko mine is just one example of how environmental and indigenous rights are being thrown under the bus of the dominant ‘open for business’ mantra. Clark’s BC Jobs Plan, unveiled in the fall, put a heavy emphasis on ramping up exports and clearing away red tape for oil, gas and mining projects. Critics derided Clark’s philosophy as ‘mine, baby, mine’, a reference to Sarah Palin’s infamous ‘drill, baby, drill’ line from the campaign trail in 2008.

Whether it’s mined, chopped down, and pumped through pipelines, the focus is on increasing exports. The television ad promoting the BC Jobs Plan features animation of a tanker sailing from B.C. to Asian markets like Japan, India and – most importantly – China. The clip opens with a business woman in B.C. shaking hands across the Pacific with a businessman in Asia. As container-loaded tanker sails west, the yellow stars over red of the Chinese flag fills the sky.

John Cummins

John Cummins

What the emerging Chinese super-power covets above all is energy – oil and gas – and Clark, like Stephen Harper in Ottawa, is willing and eager to supply them.

The province has made significant infrastructure investments to facilitate the export of gas, including a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Kitimat. Gas has become the key export commodity for B.C. – our 21st Century version of timber.

Then there is the boom in so-called natural gas in Northern B.C., much of which is shale gas and involved a potentially dangerous process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The risks of fracking was the subject of a much lauded documentary, Gasland. Many jurisdictions in North America and beyond have put a hold on fracking. Quebec, for instance, has imposed a moratorium until the practice and its impacts can be fully studied. Here in B.C., fracking has only been given minimal scrutiny, including an ongoing health review.

In addition to B.C., China wants Alberta tar sands oil. For months, the headlines have featured discussion about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, which seeks to bring tar sands crude across northern B.C. to port in Kitimat. The public opposition to Enbridge is so overwhelming that even Clark has avoided publicly advocating for the project.

Christy Clark’s smiling populism has proven unable to disguise her lack of substance. The premier comes across like a first-year marketing student, cheerily extolling the virtues of B.C.’s raw materials and the shiny panacea of the emerging Asian markets.

Anyone can see that B.C.’s economic future is tied to China’s growing economic power. But shipping raw material overseas should not be done at any expense. Real leadership needs to focus on sustainability and green jobs.

What gets lost in all of this renewed emphasis on shipping raw materials abroad is a focus on developing local manufacturing and emerging technologies.

B.C. risks reverting to the role of “hewers of wood and drawers of waters,” to borrow a famous phrase from Canadian economic history. In other words, we risk going backwards.

Opening scene of BC Jobs Plan television adb showing tanker sailing to Asia.

Opening scene of BC Jobs Plan television adb showing tanker sailing to Asia. - Screen capture courtesy of Province of B.C.