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Christy Clark holds fast to market fundamentalism as LNG dreams crumble

Photo: Province of British Columbia/flickr

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Christy Clark's fracking and liquified natural gas (LNG) dreams are being faced with a strong dose of reality. Michael Smyth recently published an insightful article on the government's new strategy for the up coming election.

An extremely aggressive campaign by the B.C. government to make the province an energy superpower has faced widespread resistance by Indigenous communities and grassroots climate justice activists. Terminals are being opposed. Pipeline routes are being occupied. The climate and health impacts of fracking are being exposed. But the Clark government seemed to willingly ignore one other major barrier: the market for LNG.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that one of the flagship projects, Petronas' Pacific Northwest LNG, may be shelved. With more and more natural gas projects coming online around the world combined with a drop in demand and gas prices the $36-billion dollar project becomes a very risky investment.

The Indigenous community of Lax Kw'alaams that is resisting the terminal and the multinational oil corporation are waiting for the Canadians Environmental Assessment Agency to post recommendations on the project and decision by the Federal Government on the project. While opponents and proponents of the project cannot rest until the decision, we may see the free market -- yes the one that Christy Clark has promoted vigorously since her time at the Fraser Institute -- ultimately decide on the short-term future of the project. For Clark, it does not look promising.

Having promised roads paved in gold from LNG revenues it would be difficult to campaign in the upcoming election with the same promises. After all, earlier this year, some simple math highlighted how that the financial void created by unfulfilled promises is being filled by the public via MSP payments. And not a single LNG terminal has been built while grassroots opposition continues to grow. What is quite ironic, however, is the Clark government plan to recover from this potential political disaster.

Christy Clark is attempting to stand up to her rich and powerful traditional benefactors in order to use the Vancouver lower mainland housing prices as a key issue for the coming election campaign. The government has proposed a new 15 per cent tax on foreign home buyers but, as Smyth has highlighted, there is a good chance "the new tax contravenes NAFTA and other treaties."

As a quite vocal proponent of corporate rights agreements, such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Christy Clark is, quite unintentionally and awkwardly I'd imagine, pointing out the problem with these international agreements. Smyth's column explains that "article 1102 of NAFTA, known as the 'national treatment' clause, which says the parties must treat each others' investors equally, including with respect to the 'sale or other disposition of investments.'" These deals are designed primarily to protect investors and corporations in the international market, something market fundamentalists have promoted for years. To see the champions of the market be blindsided by the logic and tools that govern it in successive fashion is quite stunning.

The tax may not fix a housing market that behaves more like a commodities market and may even simply continue to drive up prices as sellers look to recover the taxes they pay. And the market is still largely driven by domestic purchases which are never presented as a problem because the foreigner is more convenient to construct as an enemy as opposed to the housing market itself. The Trump card, right?

Ultimately social justice movements will keep resisting gentrification, extractive industries knowing that market rule can be devastating to communities and the environment. By now Christy Clark surely knows too. But we can't expect her to betray ideological beliefs, the Fraser Institute or the multinational corporations of the world. Expect market fundamentalism.

Photo: Province of British Columbia/flickr

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