Guaranteed basic income would help B.C. move from resource to innovation economy: Weaver

Q&A | Green Party leader on LNG, Site C, land claims, transportation challenges

| Hayley Woodin

As part of Business in Vancouver’s ongoing Election 2017 coverage, members of the newspaper’s editorial board met with BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver prior to the release of his party’s Election 2017 platform to preview some of his positions on key areas of concern for B.C. businesses. Among the issues raised during the discussion: halting the $9 billion Site C dam project, slowing fossil fuels development – including B.C.’s nascent liquefied natural gas industry – and instituting a new “basic income” plan that Weaver said would eliminate the need for welfare and unemployment insurance for workers displaced in the shift from a non-renewable to a renewable energy economy.

Q: You had a successful career as an academic. What prompted you to go into politics?

A: I viewed it as a civic duty. I was working at the University of Victoria for 20-some years, worked on the climate leadership team under [former BC Liberal premier] Gordon Campbell. I saw a government bring in policy measures that were really world-class, and then I watched as those slowly started to dismantle. Then I looked at the official Opposition, and I didn’t know what they were, didn’t know what they stood for on this issue.

I recognize that people need an alternate choice. They need someone to vote for, instead of vote against, so I’ve stood up, and said I’m willing to put my name forward. I think that when you see our platform emerge, you’ll realize that what we’re doing this for is people, not for our union and corporate friends.

Q: What would be the Green Party’s value proposition to businesses in B.C.?

A: First of all, we recognize that the engine of the economy is small business, and you’ll see in our platform that we really take a look at the structure of how taxation is occurring. You’ll see in our platform that we really are putting small business first.

What we recognize in the party is, we are the most beautiful place in the world to live, and that is a key strategic area that we have that we need to build upon. We build upon that by ensuring that we protect that beautiful place to live, and we use it to attract industry in highly mobile sectors that can go anywhere. We can offer these businesses that other jurisdictions can’t. That’s access to boundless, sustainable energy, water and wood.

Q: What distinguishes you and the Greens from John Horgan and the NDP?

A: I stood alone in the legislature for four years saying it’s fiscally foolish to chase an LNG [liquefied natural gas] rainbow that’s simply not going to happen because of a global glut of natural gas supply.

Our candidates, they’re not activists. That’s one of the things that I’ve seen with the BC NDP: it’s a party of activists. But you can’t govern through activism. Activism, it facilitates change, but what do you do if you actually have power?

Q: Which sectors do you see as replacing things like LNG?

A: LNG is not being replaced because it doesn’t exist. It makes no sense to try to chase the economy of the 20th century when other jurisdictions are moving toward a 21st century economy.

We have key strategic strengths. And that is: we can bring the tech sector together with the resource sector. Then you can actually compete and export, not only the resource, but also the knowledge that’s there to develop that resource.

I can give examples of companies like Structurlam in Penticton, a great value-added forest company. I look at MineSense … that’s looking at more efficient at rock surface ways of determining assay results.”

When we think about roads, we think about highways and bridges. What we should be thinking about is roads in terms of information getting from A to B. Prince George will never capitalize on its strategic strength in a cooler climate unless we bring in broadband redundancy. There’s no way a big company like Google will move into Prince George when the only broadband lines in there are owned by Telus. This is where government can make investment in terms of broadband, which allows them, the tech sectors, to move into rural parts of B.C.

Q: When the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was approved, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said no country in the world would leave billions of barrels of oil in the ground. The same could be said for the oil, gas and liquids in the Montney formation in northeastern B.C. Would you leave it all in the ground?

A: There’s no question it’s a very important resource. My position is: let the market determine the conditions. The BC Liberals would argue that they’re a free market party. They’re not free market. They’re interfering in the market like nothing else to try to desperately land an industry that’s not going to land here.

Q: So you don’t see natural gas as a bridge to renewable energy?

A: There is a market for natural gas as a bridge, sure. But I think B.C. is too far behind in terms of where the transition of natural gas is. It’s too expensive in B.C. I could see B.C. natural gas being shipped to export facilities in Louisiana. That’s happening now. I could see that happening as a transition.

I do see this playing a very important role as a transition. I think less so for the electricity production but more so in the transportation. We’ve got some innovation in B.C. through Westport Innovations and Vedder [Transport]. Long-haul transportation – we in B.C. are the owners of some of the leading IP in that, so there’s a huge use there.

And the biggest innovation – my dream for B.C. – was that we’d have a Tesla battery factory here. BC Hydro would move away from the business of producing power and recognize that the future economic windfall is going to come from the technology of energy storage because we have tonnes of intermittent supplies. We should be bringing a battery factory here.

Q: Speaking of BC Hydro … Site C – needed or not?

A: If there was a need for power, we know that we could immediately get power from the Columbia River entitlement. That power is being dumped on the U.S. spot market at $0.03.5 and $0.04.5 per kilowatt-hour. Secondly, building capacity for intermittent power and using our existing dams would have been a more efficient and cost effective way to move forward.

Maybe there will come a time when Site C is necessary, but … right now it’s being built solely to deliver into an LNG industry that doesn’t exist. So we’re building power with no consumer for it.

Q: So you would say stop Site C?

A: Yeah, we’ve committed to doing that. It makes no sense right now. It’s an egregious waste of taxpayers’ money to deliver into an industry that’s not happening… and it has killed the clean energy sector in B.C.

Q: The Green Party’s policy paper talks about working toward a transitional economy – i.e. moving away from resource sectors to the renewable energy economy. People in Dawson Creek and Fort St. John might read that as shutting down the oil and gas industry and retraining those workers to fix wind turbines.

A: What we’ve talked about is the implementation and the movement toward something like a basic income structure – that you have transitional help through the concept of basic income, which then eliminates some of the needs for a lot of these other services that we provide.

We’ve committed to introducing pilot projects. You could imagine, for example, picking a couple of boom-and-bust economy towns … and you might have a level of basic income and you could monitor that in a longitudinal study to see the extent to which you actually save money. There’d be no student debt because you would have a basic income if you were going to school. There would be changes in terms of welfare and social services.

Q: How would the Green Party work to resolve native land claims?

A: We have mostly untreatied First Nations, and vast claims on our land. So you can’t come into B.C. with the approach that you can engage a First Nation in a top-down approach.

We’ve talked about a natural resources board. It will decouple permitting from enforcement and compliance. The second thing is it would be there to ensure that you have a bottom-up process in terms of resource development so you ensure that First Nations are engaged at the get-go.

Q: John Horgan has proposed $10-a-day day care. What’s your position on child care?

A: Does a millionaire really need $10-a-day child care? What about Quebec? They realized that it didn’t work – it’s too costly. They have a progressive rate, so those who can’t afford it get a break and those who can, pay a little bit more. Why $10 a day? It’s nothing more than a corny sound bite, and that’s what makes British Columbians turn off politics.

Q: Metro Vancouver does not have a good relationship with the province. What would you do to improve that relationship?

A: Transportation is a huge issue in Metro Vancouver and the Mayors’ Council has been hamstrung from delivering what they need to deliver. We would empower the Mayors’ Council and offer a source of revenue that would allow them to move forward with some of the projects they’ve done. The government has abandoned its responsibility in terms of transportation in terms of Metro Vancouver.

Q: Is it possible municipalities would get other taxation powers from a Green government?

A: Municipalities are wanting other taxation powers because the government’s not stepping up. So the question is: why would you need them if you provide the resources as they stand?

Q: How would you address the housing affordability issue?

A: First and foremost is transparency. We still have a problem here. The government has closed that trust loophole for foreign investors. It has not closed that trust loophole for other investors.

Property transfer tax [is] a regressive form of taxation, I recognize that. But it needs to be stepped up on transfer of beneficial ownership, not just transfer of title. That’s a huge problem because what’s happening is you have a speculative market. In some sense, it incentivizes speculation versus home ownership by allowing you to buy a property in trust and have a corporation own the trust and sell that corporation. That’s going on in Vancouver – I know that for a fact.

I do agree with Mayor [Gregor] Robertson about the importance of a vacancy tax. There’s a social cost to having a property in Vancouver and leaving it vacant. The social cost is one that can be dealt with and provide a source of revenue.

For video footage of Andrew Weaver’s Business in Vancouver interview go to biv.com/video .