B.C. politicians battle over LNG jobs

NDP's John Horgan says there should be employment guarantees; Premier Christy Clark says trades training is the key

NDP leader John Horgan says his party will vote against the LNG development deal proposed by Premier Christy Clark.

The B.C. legislature has convened with the opposition focus on a lack of guarantees for B.C. jobs in the government’s project agreement for a major liquefied natural gas project at Prince Rupert.

NDP leader John Horgan confirmed Monday his party will vote against legislation setting terms for the Petronas-led Pacific Northwest LNG project, mainly due to a lack of assurances for local employment and purchasing. He also cited opposition from some First Nations communities and 25-year protection for the project from LNG-specific tax increases.

“This government has constrained the ability of the next government to look at this deal to increase royalties back the Crown, to increase greenhouse gas emission laws to protect the public,” Horgan said. “That’s just unconscionable and we won’t support it.”

Premier Christy Clark staged an announcement of new funding for apprenticeship training Monday, arguing that her government’s retooling of post-secondary education is a response to investors who want to hire B.C. and Canadian workers wherever they can.

“There’s a reason the unions support what we’re doing, and there’s a reason that the unions disagree with what Mr. Horgan has said,” Clark said. “It’s because they know that if we work together and we’re making sure British Columbians are first in line for those jobs, British Columbians will get those jobs first.”

Clark scoffed at Horgan’s claim that up to 70 per cent of construction jobs on the Prince Rupert project could go to foreign workers.

The figure comes from Pacific Northwest’s filing to the federal environmental review, describing the potential impact of a large out-of-town workforce on northwestern B.C. communities.

A February 2014 consulting engineers’ report says “Canadian workers will account for 70 per cent of the onsite workforce for the first three years of construction. Due to competition from labour from other projects, Canadian workers may account for 30 per cent of the onsite workforce for the remaining two years of construction.”

In the final stages, B.C. LNG projects would assemble compression and refrigeration components manufactured offshore, with specialty skills such as welding metal alloys designed for low-temperature operation.

Clark said the Australian government did not develop a local workforce for LNG projects, and some of their projects were cancelled in the face of high labour costs and skilled trades shortages.