2015 Year In Review: One-on-one with Christy Clark
Keith Baldrey: Going forward, for the next year, is there one particular challenge facing you and your government?
Christy Clark: Always striving to make sure we grow this economy. It is not going to be easy. We live in this world of instability. You look at Alberta to the east, you look at countries in Asia which are slowing down, what’s going on in the states, we are an island of growth and stability in the world. In order to keep that, it’s going to take a lot of work. It’s not going to be easy, and it means we’re going to have to really strive.
Baldrey: With the uncertainty around just how much power First Nations have over projects, resource development projects, how concerned are you about that it would stifle growth and investment?
Clark: On natural gas, First Nations have been very supportive of that, and the reasons is we’ve be going in at the front end and said how do we make sure this resource development grows your community? How do we make sure that you are part of this economic growth, that you and your First Nations community are getting benefits from it?
And to me, I see that really as an opportunity, not an obstacle, but it’s how you start the process. I think walking into a First Nations community with a cheque and saying ‘here’s your money’ is certainly not the right way to do it. I think the example we set with LNG is the right way to do it.
Baldrey: You talked a lot about LNG in the last election campaign, but still, here we are today, no sign that any company is going to make that final investment decision and go ahead with one. Are you accepting the possibility you’re going into the next election campaign with no LNG facilities in place?
Clark: Well, $20 billion has been spent, that’s no small change. That’s a lot of jobs for a lot of people, and that’s a pretty big commitment from a lot of companies, but we can’t control the world’s conditions. All we can do is everything possible in B.C.’s end. Work with First Nations: we’ve done it. Build a competitive tax framework: we’ve done it. Build the right environmental framework: we’ve done it. Go out and attract the investment, sell B.C. overseas: we’ve done it. All of the plans are in place, all of the things we need to do, and, you know, I can’t, as much as I’d like to control the rest.
WATCH: Despite the worldwide slump in demand for liquified natural gas, Premier Christy Clark isn’t giving up on BC’s LNG future. Ted Chernecki reports.
Baldrey: Stephanie Cadieux has been front and centre wearing these problems [with the Ministry of Children and Family Development], the public face of the government. Is it fair to her to keep in her in that portfolio? You had that portfolio, and you took it very reluctantly from Gordon Campbell. Is it fair to keep her there?
Clark: It’s a hard job, it’s a really hard job. I know that, as you say, but I think Stephanie would agree that it is one of the most fulfiling jobs in government. Think about what she’s been able to do: adoptions are up by 21 per cent. She’s added over 100 frontline workers in the ministry. The number of children in care is down dramatically. Stephanie Cadieux has made a huge difference in that ministry. There are problems we need to solve, and we have to strive to do better, no question about it. And she knows that too. But I think she would also tell you she’s knows she’s made a big difference for a lot of people since she’s taken it own.
It’s true: When I took it on, I remember I was a little bit daunted by it. By the time I finished the job, I remember feeling really good about the difference I made; probably more than any in any other ministry in government.
WATCH: Some of Global News’ recent report into the Ministry of Children and Family Development
Baldrey: When you were running for election and the [Liberal] leadership, you were promising the most open and transparent government, which everybody seems to be promising these days.
Given the privacy commissioner’s report and her findings and conclusions, can you even make that promise with a straight face anymore?
Clark: Well, yeah. We have seen expectations change about what how this information should be provided. We’ve answered more FOI requests as a government than Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined in some years. We proactively post things on the web, information that people don’t even have to put an information request in for, so we’ve worked hard on that. But obviously, we’ve got more to do and make sure people have access to their government’s information as much as possible, because technology has changed, people’s expectations have changed.
Baldrey: When you were elected, you inherited from Gordon Campbell his commitments to climate change, in terms of emission targets. Didn’t really hear a lot about that from your government the first while. Now with Paris, and what’s going on there, is climate change now back as a priority for this government?
Clark: It’s always been a priority for us. We’ve supported – the last increase in the carbon tax happened was when I was premier. But I made a commitment in the last election. I said look, until other provinces start catching up to us, for heaven’s sake, we don’t want make our province so uncompetitive that businesses just leave, go to the other side of the Rocky Mountains, and pollute without restrictions. We want them to stay here, in an environmentally sound world, and want them to be competitive. The first three years though, we’ve been working incredibly hard to make sure this economy is stable and growing, which we’ve done. We’re going to lead the country, we’re number one this coming year and the year after according to the Conference Board, that’s jobs for people.
So now we have the room, just like we have the room to invest in services, we have the room to really start thinking in about what the next steps are with climate change. And we should be, because people want to know what we’re doing is sound.
WATCH: Premier Christy Clark discusses B.C.’s climate change strategy with Chris Gailus
Baldrey: The carbon tax, by all accounts, seems to be working. British Columbia gets credit for this on the world stage. So if it’s working, why not increase it further, and as you say, tie it to another tax cut, as your climate team recommends?
Clark: We’re discussing that. That’s part of the consultation we’ll have. The thing the climate leadership team recognized – and this is groundbreaking – they said we have to find a way to make sure that if the carbon tax goes up, that businesses, especially trade-exposed energy intensive businesses, are protected, that they don’t become uncompetitive. That’s what’s really revolutionary about that. I don’t think there’s been prominent environmentalists anywhere in the world that have come up with a plan like that.
The problem that we have, if we just continue to raise the carbon tax with very broad tax cuts across the economy, is eventually it does become uncompetitive for some business. And what do they do? They pick up, they go south to the states or east to another province. And we lose those jobs, they are no longer paying a carbon tax anywhere, and it’s not better for the country, it’s not better for the world. So we need to find a way to keep our carbon taxes competitive at the same time we’re protecting the environment. That’s the challenge.
Baldrey: And how can you square an LNG industry, which will increase emissions, with achieving lower emission targets? Is the argument that’s going to help China?
Clark: And that’s one of the things that was at issue in Paris, because we all share that air. There are 150 coal plants on the books in China right now. British Columbia can make a huge contribution to stopping those coal plants from being built by sending them our LNG. They’re not going to stop building those coal plants if they don’t have an alternative. And we are offering the cleanest alternative in the world when it comes to LNG.
And so the thing is, you can set the goals, but you have to have a plan to get to the goals. Part of getting to those goals is stopping those coal plants from getting built, and we are an integral part of that plan.
READ MORE: B.C. can help other countries lower emissions, says Clark
Baldrey: Switching topics to education. It seems on a weekly basis, I get correspondence from teachers, who say there’s a worsening crisis in their classrooms when it comes to kids’ mental health, anxiety and depression. They say more needs to be done. The rapid rise of kids with autism is another issue. Even though you fund the system to the tune of five billion dollars, do you agree more has to be done to address those issue?
Clark: Yes. Absolutely. Youth mental illness is becoming a more common problem. We should do more and we can do more. The benefit of growing the economy, being number one in growth in the country, is we have the capacity to make sure we’re funding programs that need more funding. The first thing is to come with a plan. We now have a cabinet committee, chaired by Minster Rich Coleman – who has done such an extraordinary job working with people who are mentally ill, providing housing in the DTES in particular – working on a cross-government plan to deal with mental health, in particular youth mental health. And we’ll find ways to fund that.
But it’s something I’m personally really concerned with, because I challenge people all the time to think about whether or not there’s someone they know in their lives who has a mental illness. Everybody puts up their hand. Is there a young person you know with mental illness? Most people put up their hand. We have to deal with it, and we have to make mental illness something we treat as unfortunate, but not stigmatized in our society.
Baldrey: Are you confident that when I ask the same question next year that the situation will be better?
Clark: I think we’ll have a good plan, and I think we’ll make some progress getting there. This isn’t something any government has done well in British Columbia for a long time, so I’m really determined that we’re going to find a way to make this work. If we can continue to grow our economy, and that means we continue to have funds to support these social programs that are so important, it’s going to be easier to do that. But that aside, we want to make sure we deal with this issue, and it’s going to mean cracking open the barriers across government, because there’s so many different ministries that deal with it in silos. We’ve got to knock those down, and we’ve got to make it absolutely user-friendly for citizens, because when your child has a mental illness, and they need help, you can’t go to five government departments looking for that help, you just need the help.
Baldrey: Your opposition continues to criticize you for not having a child poverty plan, saying other provinces have one. Is that something you’re considering?
Clark: We have a jobs growth plan. That’s how you eliminate poverty. The difference between the government and the opposition is we recognize the only way to have strong social programs, to make sure the Ministry of Children and Family Development is working, to make sure we’re supporting children with mental health issues, to make sure we’re dealing with poverty, is to create more jobs, and then invest in education so people can get those jobs. That is a real poverty reduction plan.
Baldrey: So I’m taking no to an actual plan called a child poverty reduction plan.
Clark: I guess you could call our jobs plan a poverty reduction plan, because that’s exactly what it’s done.
Baldrey: Do you think what’s happening in the United States in that presidential race is having an adverse effect on the political culture up here?
Clark: Yes. I think the negativity and cynicism of American politics has had a corrosive effect over a lot of years in Canada, and I think it’s never been worse than it is now. We should never underestimate the effect of cynicism in our lives. But I don’t think it’s American politics, I think it’s reality TV, I think it’s the incivility that the media promotes often, that we see on the internet a lot, I think it has a really corrosive effect, not just on politics, but every aspect of our lives, to our work day, to driving home, to looking after your kids. We need to be conscious of that. It’s Christmas time, this is the time for people to think about how important it is that we our free ourselves a little bit, step back from some of that cynicism and negativity, and open our hearts to be generous-minded about other people, to think positively about the world.
Baldrey: Are you going to carry those thoughts like that all the way through to May 2017, when the next provincial election comes around, or is that going to be a more scrappy affair?
Clark: I wake up every day – it really sounds corny – but only 35 have ever had the privilege of being Premier of the province. So even those this is a really hard job, I do get up every day and think to myself I had better enjoy this and make the most of every single day, do as much as i possibly can, because I’m never going to get this chance again, and that is the source of most of this optimism that the opposition criticizes me for. I’m optimistic because I believe in the province, and I believe that each of us has a chance to do something really good for the province if we try.