MERRITT, B.C. – British Columbia Liberal Leader Christy Clark appears to be betting that the simmering softwood dispute with the United States is fertile ground for votes as she increased the pressure in the trade spat Tuesday, promising a hefty carbon tax on U.S. thermal coal.
Clark said she would tax the coal that’s shipped through the province’s ports to make it uncompetitive and defend workers from the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Now is the right time to do it, the right time to send a strong message to the Trump administration and U.S. lumber barons that we will not back down in the face of their aggressive attacks on workers here in British Columbia,” said Clark, who has pushed hard on the issue in the latter stages of the provincial election campaign.
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If the federal government doesn’t act on her request to ban the coal, she said the Liberals would develop regulations that impose a carbon price of about $70 per tonne if they are re-elected in the May 9 election.
“The levy would make thermal coal shipped through British Columbia utterly uncompetitive in the global market,” she said while campaigning in Merritt.
The plan escalates a threat she first made last week after the American’s imposed an average duty of 20 per cent on Canadian softwood lumber.
The coal moves through B.C. ports to be shipped to China, but Clark says it’s among the dirtiest and most carbon-intense methods to generate power and heat. About 6.6 million tonnes of thermal coal was exported through B.C. ports last year, 94 per cent of that came from the United States.
NDP Leader John Horgan said that if Clark was serious about thermal coal she could have done something about it years ago, accusing her of only reacting now because of the election.
“I think this is reckless, it’s irresponsible,” he said at a campaign stop in Kamloops. “If we don’t get a good deal on softwood lumber, it’s going to mean thousands of jobs are at risk and the only job Christy Clark cares about is hers.”
About 30 supporters gathered on a bank of the South Thomson River to meet Horgan, who said if each of them represented 1,000 people that would total the 30,000 people in the city the NDP says don’t have a family doctor.
“That’s a crisis. It hasn’t been addressed because of 16 years of neglect by the B.C. Liberals,” said Horgan.
The NDP would invest in public health care, including building a new patient care tower at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, and urgent care centres across the province to fill the gap between walk-in clinics and clogged emergency rooms, Horgan said.
“It’s time we had a government that’s working for you, and in seven days we’re going to get that,” he said.
Liberal Health Minister Terry Lake, who isn’t running for re-election in Kamloops-North Thompson, showed up at Horgan’s campaign stop. The NDP has not won the riding since 1991, but Horgan said he thinks they can be successful there.
Lake said the NDP is exaggerating when it says 30,000 people lack a family doctor in Kamloops, but added access to primary care is a challenge.
“There’s no magic bullet that’s going to solve this problem overnight and I think it’s disingenuous for Mr. Horgan or anyone else to claim that they can do that,” he said.
Horgan’s campaign cited a media story from last November quoting telemedicine provider Medview MD for the 30,000 figure.
As Lake spoke to reporters, NDP supporters carried signs that said “700,000 without a family doctor,” a reference to the total number of people the party says lack a primary care physician.
“Hire more nurses!” said Diane Lingren, a nurse with 10 years of experience, wearing her blue scrubs.
“We are,” responded Lake.
“No you’re not. You’re filling vacant spaces,” she said, shaking her head.
Lingren said nurses are working short-staffed and under-supported with patients being treated in hallways. People look at the wards and say, “Oh, it’s just like ‘M.A.S.H.’ in here,” she said.
Green party Leader Andrew Weaver campaigned in Vancouver on Tuesday, attacking the NDP for making “disturbing” multibillion-dollar promises without saying how it would be paid for.
The Liberals and NDP have also failed on climate change and getting the province ready for the new economy, he said.
“We recognize that if we want to be leaders in tech innovation we must also embrace the tech innovation that we want to be leaders in,” he said.
“B.C. Liberals have no plan, the B.C. NDP have a plan to come up with a plan to develop a plan, and the B.C. Greens actually have a plan for a prosperous future.”