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MLA Robin Austin running for a third time

Onel Liberal policy Austin says will be fully examined should the NDP be elected is the development of independent power projects.

SKEENA New Democrat MLA Robin Austin has been nominated to run for his party in next May’s provincial election.

Austin, who won the seat in 2005 and again in 2009, was chosen by acclamation at a meeting held by the New Democratic Party’s Skeena provincial riding association on June 23.

“This is obviously a very exciting time as things are looking up for us as the pollsters suggest we’re ready to move from opposition to the governing side. But there is still a lot of hard work ahead,” said Austin.

He said he’s looking forward to the potential of being part of a governing party after years of honing his skills as an opposition MLA.

“After two terms you see what happens on the other sides when they make decisions and enact them. And there’s the opportunity at the same time to think of how you would do things differently,” said Austin who is his party’s education critic.

Austin wouldn’t reveal how much money his constituency association has raised so far for next year’s election campaign but did say it was substantial but that more was needed.

He did say the riding association’s membership numbers more than 300 people, a factor helped in part by federal Skeena - Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen’s run at the federal NDP leadership this spring.

“As you know, within the NDP, when you buy a membership, you are a member provincially and federally,” said Austin.

One provincial Liberal policy Austin says will be fully examined should the NDP be elected is the development of independent power projects.

He’s predicting BC Hydro bills will soar once the true costs of buying power from independent producers is known.

That’s because BC Hydro has been shuffling off those costs into deferral accounts – an accounting practice which shelters, for the time being, expenses from showing up on the crown corporation’s books.

“BC Hydro is going to be in an awful state,” said Austin. “It’s not going to be millions, but billions of dollars of debt that its ratepayers, and that’s really taxpayers because they are really the same, are going to have to pay.”

He said the use of deferral accounts to shuffle off expenses such as contracts to buy independent power allowed BC Hydro to report profits and then to have those profits claimed by the provincial government.

Austin repeated an NDP policy statement that should the party be elected next May, it will open all of BC Hydro’s independent power purchase contracts for public scrutiny.

“It may not be on Day One, but it will happen,” he said.

Austin also said he was mystified that Liberal energy minister Rich Coleman would say the NDP, if elected, would stop construction of the Northwest Transmission Line.

The line is scheduled to be finished in early 2014 and construction activity is accelerating this summer.

Coleman, in a press release, said he was responding to reports from NDP energy critic John Horgan that BC Hydro’s capital projects list needs to be examined.

“The Northwest Transmission Line is crucial for the development of new mines like the recently permitted Red Chris Mine. This transmission line is extremely important in allowing clean energy projects along the North Coast to gain access to the grid to support the growing demand for power in our province. We cannot afford to let these opportunities be delayed,” said Coleman.

Austin said construction of the Northwest Transmission Line, which will be halfway toward completion if the NDP are elected next spring, has the support of his party. “I think Mr. Coleman would find that at least half of the [NDP caucus] made expressions of support,” said Austin.

A social worker by profession, Austin claimed Skeena from the Liberals in 2005 by defeating then-incumbent Roger Harris and defended it successfully against Liberal Donny van Dyk in 2009.

The riding takes in Kitimat, Terrace and extends northward into the Nass Valley and east from Terrace along Hwy16 toward the Cedarvale area.

Original information posted July 9, 2012 as to the boundaries of the riding was amended July 10, 2012.