Common Sense Canadian

Rafe: By backing LNG, the Horgan NDP lost election before it began

Posted March 8, 2016 by Rafe Mair in Energy and Resources
 By backing LNG, the Horgan NDP lost the election before it began

BCNDP leader John Horgan (BCNDP/Flickr)

The following is the first in a two-part opinion letter series. In a sequel letter, Common Sense Canadian publisher Damien Gillis will do what he rarely does: disagree with his old pal and partner, Rafe Mair.

Dear John Horgan,

I hate to say this, but I told you so, and the flock of chickens I promised have now come home to roost.

Many months ago I took you to task for supporting LNG without reservation. I told you that by doing this you had prevented your party from questioning each and every step of the LNG process as well as government policy in trying to flog it.

“Against Everything”

Your excuse was that “we cannot be against everything”, probably the most nonsensical thing I have ever heard in the political arena and that’s saying something. What you said to your party and the voter is that whether or not you approve of a policy depends not on whether it’s good policy but the optics.

What, I asked, if it turns out to be lousy policy? How will you be able to criticize a policy you vowed to support? And that’s just what happened, Mr. Horgan…and I told you it would.

The duty to oppose

Rafe- Vancouver Sun keeps shilling for LNG, Woodfibre plant

Christy Clark promotes “Clean LNG” at Vancouver conference last year (David P. Ball)

I tried to explain Lord Randolph Churchill’s dictum that “it is the duty of the opposition to oppose”. You obviously haven’t studied your politics or you would know that what he was saying was, basically, you must test every proposition of government policy in order to demonstrate its value or otherwise. If you approve of a policy before then, you abdicate your duty to the people. This was no minor matter I raised, Mr. Horgan, but goes to the very root of our parliamentary system.

See what’s happened? Since that time Christy & Co have screwed up every aspect of the LNG issue and you can’t utter a word about any of them because you’ve given her policy your blessing! Isn’t that precisely what I warned you would happen?

A big, fracking mistake

Horn River fracking

A fracking drill in BC’s Horn River Basin (Two Island Films)

There surely is no need for me to list the litany of absurdities that the government has committed in the last term over LNG. I just raise a couple of factors.

You approve of fracking  – even though most scientists condemn it. Is that perhaps because a lot of it happens in constituencies you covet?

The entire question of extracting gas to make LNG has now become a very significant issue, since the detrimental effects of methane have become known. When you gave your blessing, it was commonly said and, indeed, still is by Premier Clark, that LNG is the least harmful of all of the fossil fuels whereas we now know it’s the most harmful. Yet you’re unable to raise that issue.

On the question of the business handling of LNG, it’s hard to imagine that any government of any political stripe could so mangle a file as the Liberals have, yet you must be taken to approve – how dumb is that? Moreover, you must also accept as true all the sheer rubbish Christy has been pumping out about 20 LNG plants by 2020! Isn’t this just what I said would happen?

The company you keep

The situation in Howe Sound is a microcosm of the mess you’ve got yourself in – let’s have a peek.

Do you favour licensing a crook, big time tax-cheater and jungle-burner – the owner of Woodfibre LNG (WLNG) – to become part of our community, to be trusted by our environmental ministries, our finance ministries and the people of Howe Sound? The answer, sir, is yes, you do.

Do you favour the sham environmental process used by the Clark government to approve this company? The answer is yes, you do.

Do you care about the clear threat to sea life from toxic emissions from WLNG, a sea life that, thanks to cleanup mainly from citizens, includes a stunning return of herring, salmon, Orca, dolphins, sea lions and seals once largely gone? Of course you don’t, because you cannot quarrel with any aspect of LNG policy.

Tanker trouble

Courtesy of Eoin Finn

Courtesy of Eoin Finn

Do you give a damn that Howe Sound is far too narrow for LNG tankers, even by industry standards set by The Society of International Tanker and Terminal Operators (SIGTTO), headquartered in London – the de facto world authority on LNG terminal siting standards? I doubt you’ve even read them, for why would you when you uncritically support LNG?

Do you know that Dr. Michael Hightower, a world-renowned expert on LNG tanker operations at Sandia International Laboratories, has defined for the US Department of Energy three hazard zones of 500m, 1600m (1 mile) and 3500m surrounding LNG tankers? That this means virtually the entire Sea to Sky Highway from Britannia to Lighthouse Park, Anvil, southeast Gambier, Bowyer, eastern Keats, Bowen, and all islands of the Pasley group fall within the zone?

Furthermore, from Britannia to Porteau Cove, Bowyer, White Cliff, both coasts of Bowen and eastern Pasley group are also within the much more dangerous 1600m zone? Do care at all about these people and their property put at risk? No, Mr. Horgan, you couldn’t care less because, of course, “you can’t be against everything!”

Kick ’em between the legs

You’re now telling people that you have to command respect, almost love, in order to get their support in 2016. Of course, you might get lucky and find that the Liberals have been so bloody awful that Screaming Lord Sutch and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party could win the next election. But that’s always a dangerous assumption, Mr. Horgan, and is where I’ve always disagreed with Tommy Douglas’s theory that when the government is falling all over itself, it’s time to get out of the way and let them fall. He was wrong, Mr. Horgan – that’s the time you kick them as hard as you can right between the legs to make sure they don’t suddenly recover their balance as sometimes happens.

Fess up

You must now do something that every politician hates to do, even 50 years after they’ve left office. You have to admit that you were wrong and you have to say approximately this:

We made a mistake in supporting the government on the LNG issue. We wanted to make sure people realized we support development, however we were premature and we must review all LNG issues so that the public is fully informed, and that’s precisely what we are going to do. Whether or not LNG has a future in British Columbia remains to be seen. The government has made, as everyone knows, an unholy mess of the whole issue and it is our duty to try to sort this out and let the people make a decision on the facts.

People will remember an apology like this for a long time but they won’t hold it against you, Mr.Horgan, hard as that may be to believe. That’s because the greater sins belong to the government and people know and understand that.

Even Dix would be better

Photo: BCNDP/Flickr

Photo: BCNDP/Flickr

Both of your predecessors, Ms. Carole James and Mr. Adrian Dix have proved to be far more effective in opposition, inside the House and out, than you have. Both in their time ran lousy campaigns, but the NDP should look for improvement, not perfection, and, even given the warts, Dix makes more sense as the leader of the NDP going into the next election than you do. The public won’t reject Dix in advance because he lost an election. The Liberal media will make a fuss but it’s a matter of making the best of a lousy situation. The issue is Mair’s Axion II, “you don’t have to be a 10 in politics, you can be a 3 if everyone else is a 2”. Under that formula, Dix doesn’t look that bad.

I have never, going back a ways now, seen a government that I thought should be tossed out on its ass quicker and more effectively than this one. At the same time I can’t remember any moment where the opposition was in a worse position to do that.

You should be fired but, never fear, your party won’t force you out…they would rather lose an election then lose face.

That means you may be the man who, through stubbornness, lost the election to the worst government in the living memory of this ancient political junkie.


About the Author

Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at


    Tom Shandel

    Reading these responses and my own reactions, hard not to conclude that Horgan waited too long and picked the wrong horse to ride into the next election. He’s doomed to fight off the invisible threat like don Quixote. LNG, LNG as the windmill blade smacks him continuously. I think he could survive but only if he shows something he’s never shown before: guts to go with principles and humility. He could pivot right now. Admit he was hasty and ill informed. Sh should fire those who counseled support for LNG. And be an opposition party with guts. I can’t see any other chance.


    Going into the 1960 presidential election Nixon was leading the polls, but during the first debate he made the critical error of agreeing with Kennedy on most critical issues. Along with looking nervous and ill prepared, he pretty much lost the election on that night.

    Horgan, as Rafe so correctly points out, has made a similar error. I’m not sure if it is too late for him to change course, but if I was leading the NDP I would make the next election about graft, corruption and total lack of integrity with this government and in particular the premier – even if it resulted in a libel suit. Never in the history of our province has a government given the opposition so much to work with, and never has so little been done with it.

    Call it publicly what it is Mr Horgan – it is a cesspool of moral turpitude in Victoria.


    By the time the next election rolls around BC will have experienced another long tenure of a right-wing government. Let’s assume the BC Liberals(in name only) get dumped as they should, there will be such great expectation to implement sustainable and green policies that some reduction in employment is bound to result if these expectations are fulfilled completely. Any prudent progress will be criticized as not enough and the new government might be in for one term and then it is back to the same old pro-development, pro-business gang. The Greens exist for the only reason that the NDP is not Green enough. Greens have never been able to convince enough workers that there will be enough work to offset any lost in the old standard employment creating ventures. As a way of draining off votes from the left, they do fine and keep the BC Liberals happy.

    Horgan is cautious, as he has a right to be, of those who want perfection. As has been said before by someone; “The pursuit of perfection is often the obstacle to progress.” What I would prefer is a credible, honest, impartial and fair Environmental Review Process based on science so that decisions are made on a non-political basis. That would ensure that projects like with LNG, Site C, Enbridge are given real scrutiny and then rejection as warranted. The same can be said for the BCUC.

    Diana Schroeder

    When Adrian Dix was campaigning, I asked him directly, in person, if he supported LNG. He mumbled that “the science was not yet in.” Of course I did not vote for him. I voted Green and the vote was split. Many others did the same. I am beginning to think that it is not the candidates that are the problem, it’s the “party insiders” and the campaign team that are miscalculating the vote of environmentalists, First Nations and women. They are putting too much into jobs that will never materialize in the hopes of keeping their union support. The NDP have to concentrate on supporting our public service unions, our women and our environment or they will never win an election. They have to be gutsy and stop trying to please everyone. They need to take lessons from Bernie. There is nothing more laughable than a politician that tries to ply nice when the stakes are high. Show some courage and do what is the right thing to do instead of trying to get votes.

    Dan G. Rawlings

    I dunno what is left to say about the BC NDP. They are lost and direction less. They lost next years election when the BC fake Libs infiltrated the BC Con party and destroyed them from within. The NDP has only ‘won’ in BC when their is a split of the right. heck their last ‘win’ they received a majority despite getting fewer popular votes….

    It will be a two party race next year and not much will change. The libs and Ndp may lose or gain a seat or two and the Greens may pick up a second one on the island but other than that it will be the usual same old…

    Why do you think Dix or James would be better? they both blew it, especially Dix but James also ran uninspiring Campaigns as well.

    The NDP needs to get rid of their current backroom and anyone affiliated with the 90’s NDP including Horgan. Personally the 90’s were a better decade for me than the Liberal reign but the corrupt main stream corporate media has ‘brainwashed’ the masses into believing otherwise.


      I have never, and likely never will, vote NDP. However, I will agree with you that the 1990’s were not nearly as awful as has been portrayed, and I hate the Liberals still trotting that one out as a reason they are so awesome. We were doing nicely for most of the decade in terms of people living here. Most of us were working and could afford to buy a house and take care of our families. Yes, you could make a long list of problems as you can do with any era; however, you can make just as long of a list (and likely longer) here in Christy Clark’s reign.

      The Liberals have spent 15 years telling us how awful the 1990’s were and most people have come to believe it.

      I also love how the BC Libs have added enormous amounts to the provincial debt yet that is amazing fiscal management compared to a smaller amount of debt added during the NDP decade. Seems similar to how the Harperists are happy to add 150 billion to the debt as great management; yet the mere thought of a tenth of that by Trudeau and out come the people trashing him.

      I think Rafe needs to update date his axiom….

      you don’t have to be a 10 in politics, you can be a 2 if you can falsely convince the electorate everyone else is a 1.


    Perhaps many of you should be considering the progressive stance of the BC Greens. I have stood alone in the BC Legislature pointing out the fiscal folly of BC chasing the LNG pipe dream. Please consider checking our (and typing LNG in the search bar). We have a diverse array of inspiring candidates stepping up to run for us in 2017.


      Thanks for stopping by. You need to get the word out about your economic ideas because most people don’t know what you have to offer other than the environmental perspective.

      I have always been a “no NDP” type of voter, I admit. However, I just can not in any good conscience give Clark my vote ever again and her LNG bullshit is a disgrace. Your party will certainly get a look at from me.

      My dad always has voted NDP; however, as Rafe puts it so well, they just are not cutting it as opposition these days and he is looking for an alternative too.

      Your party really has a chance to make some noise here (at least to pick up enough MLA’s to get significant attention); you do, however, have to get the message out aggressively about economic and financial matters just as much as your environmental matters. We need to know what you can do.


      I sincerely hope that you will put your attention on ridings that have 2 things: a potential to win AND very importantly, candidates who are NOT very green ..pls do not go about trying to defeat good ndp candidates just for the sake or running a campaign. All you will do is split the vote and elect a liberal -or if you win, you will have defeated a potential ally.


    At the end of the day, the world is going to make this decision for us. It is highly unlikely that anyone commits to a mega project at this stage; and if anyone does , it might be one or two at the most.

    So, if Horgan will not fight this, I think just the realities of this plan will come to pass and we can all move on from it.

    I personally do not think we will even get one. If one of these companies makes a positive “Final investment decision” (great buzz word by the way); the opposition from locals, First Nations, court battles, etc will be so immense nothing will get done.

    I think we , the people,and the realities of the world of LNG, will protect us all from this madness.

    Let’s be blunt. Christy pulled out LNG For one reason ONLY, to sell big enough numbers to the electorate to overcome a huge gap in an election campaign. It worked, and she is now stuck on it to try to save her “legacy”. If she went into that campaign leading the polls, I doubt this would have ever become a focus beyond what it was before.

    I still shudder to think of the world she promised us. Can you imagine if she got her TWENTY PLANTS!!! With the associated water pollution, fracking damage, and air pollution to get all of that out of the ground, the number of tankers in our waters every year; and where we would be in 30 years from now? I shudder to think about it. It really doesn’t matter if I am not having to pay PST anymore or have a low tax rate if I walk out my door and my inlet is polluted and I can’t go camping in half the province due to the mess.

    Evil Eye

    The NDP are like the Titanic, sailing madly into a political iceberg, not once, not twice, but now three times.

    The party is dominated by corn pone old boys/girls fighting battlers lost decades ago and too dogmatic to understand that the NDP must change to even survive.

    It is a party of losers, with failed leaders still in government – there is a time to depart and the likes of James and Dix do not understand this.

    The NDP will lose, the Leader of the opposition does not understand, nor do the MLA’s and by this gross incompetence, they have let BC adrift with the most evil of grifters and charlatans. Evil days, evil days.


    I had high hopes for Mr Horgan but he quickly dispelled them. Rt wing govts always taunt the left as “being negative”. Horgan listened and made the illogical and foolish remark “we can’t always be against” things. He didn’t understand that this isn’t the way the parliamentary system works and for it to do so requires that the Opposition leader follows Lord Randolph Churchill’s aphorism “it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose”. If the leader ignores that time proven advice, he will paint himself into a corner and become, as Horgan has, hostage to the government’s mistakes. Mr Horgan has but a year to shut out taunts, understand Lord Randolph’s sage advice and get his and his party’s act together.


    I held high hopes for Mr Horgan but his ignorance of the duty of the opposition has put him in an intolerable situation. Rt wing governments and supporters always leftwing parties that they’re always negative. Mature opposition leaders ignore that and know that our parliamentary system only works properly when it not only practices but understands the Lord Randolph Churchill aphorism “it’s the duty of the Opposition to oppose”. Those who listen to the taunts instead paint themselves into a corner and become hostages to the failures of the government, just as Mr Horgan has done. He has a year to show he has listened to Lord Randolph and has got his and his party’s act together.


      I do not quite see what else he can do but resign at the moment. Confidence in the NDP has all evaporated.


    Maybe they think we need infinite economic growth – seeing failed ideas like LNG export as ways to grow the economy.

    Infinite GDP growth seems to be how governments deal with all the debt that is building up.


      They can’t even say recession anymore they call it negative growth! How about we make a balance between what we take and what is sustainable and just keep the economy there. I know Utopia.


    Both the Provincial and Federal NDP need to wake up to reality not what seems to their version of from the actions of Dix & Mulcair.

    Nicole Sims

    Help us, Obiwan Keno…er, Rafe Mair…you’re our only hope.

    Lorain James

    John has a topnotch supply of people who can readily provide him with the best of research and info regarding the top issues that have most of us pulling our hair out if we have any..

    I am on the list of the many disappointed with Horgan. There is enough solid reliable information that good wise dedicated and seasoned people have researched and collected that has enough teeth to chew up the BC liberals and spit them out…

    I hope there will be a complete turnaround by Horgan because like the photo oops he does there is a huge lack influence or substance. Maybe he is tired and needs to retire…

    Don F.

    If by chance you read this article Mr. Horgan and consider what is said you should see this as perfect timing to reverse your decision to back the LNG mistake. Even with all the bobbles, giveaways of publics returns, incentives and subsidies this government hasn’t been able to secure one committed player in their game. Now the price they can demand has plummeted to lows making it insanity to invest in Christy Clarks folly.
    It would at this point in time seem a wise and prudent decision on behalf of the people of british columbia to stand firm and call this what it was, a complete illusion!
    As far as your campaign goes it would give you an issue that any opposition could only dream of given all that’s developed against going forward with this.
    If handled correctly you could call into play the liberal government’s inability to navigate this and expose Site C dam to the same scrutiny. A hero would be born in you!
    All this said I can’t help but wonder at a future with a politician, such as yourself, that we have to explain all this to,
    but these are desperate times indeed.

    John's Aghast

    I think West Kelowna should secede from British Columbia! Have you people no shame?


    Teresa the Sailor; the only flaw in your comment is the thought that CC is not too bright. Perhaps so but her brain has nothing to do with where we re because whoever is doing the thinking on her side, has Mr. Horgan by the short and curlies. The NDP gobbles the bait every time.

    Teresa the Sailor

    Thank you for saying it like it is. I so want to vote for Horgan’s party (I live in S. Delta so have a great independent) but he constantly disappoints in his backing of the LNG industry. It takes a strong person to admit you were wrong, it takes a weak person to double down on poor policies to save face. Look at Christy Clark, she is a pro at doubling down on horrible policies and protecting horrible MLAs and that shows a disrespect for the voters, as she looks into the camera and smiles while lying through her teeth. She is actually weak. Coming clean and changing policies based on re-evaluating the information would show strength and strong leadership.

    Thanks again for a great article.


    Another good one, Mr. Mair.

    I waited and gave Mr. Horgan a chance to get up to speed, even though length of service didn’t warrant warm up time. He should have come out guns a blazing from the convention that acclaimed him.

    For months now, as you, Norm, Laila and other concerned BCers have been doing the heavy lifting; putting good solid material at Mr. Horgan’s feet, he has chosen to not pay attention, not take heed and not speak out, or up, publicly.

    Christy Coleman has nailed Mr. Horgan’s feet to the floor with the “Force of No’ handle and it has made him blink. He could just as easily have grabbed onto that and said yes we are…NO more site C, NO more Hydro flim flam, NO more foreign take overs, NO more disrespected children and No more Christy Coleman Circus.

    More and more, people who care and know what is going on ask, “where IS Mr. Horgan?” More and more, they ponder if backup is exactly where the NDP are most comfortable.

    It’s probably too late now.


    Australia is a major LNG exporter.

    If LNG is so awesome, why is Australia’s debt so massive, and why is their debt growing by $10,000 every second?

    In BC we were told that LNG export would pay off our debt.


    Please give a warning before you refer to Sukanto Tanoto as a “jungle burner”.
    I almost ruined my laptop with beerspray…………

    Total agreement about Horgan. He cant see the environment because there are too many union jobs(votes) standing in the way…….Pa-thetic


    I totally agree Rafe and it is damn disheartening. Science has now told us there is no doubt that in heavily fracked areas the rock where the chemical storage takes place is being so pulverized by intense fracking that in some areas the toxic chemicals are migrating into underground aquifers. Further, they say that they do not know how long this process takes and every fracking site is different. They also now know that active fracking sites are bad for the health of those working there.

    I had hopes May 2017 held out a new hope in government. It doesn’t.

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