Monday, March 3, 2014

North Coast MLA rather quiet on LNG discussion in Legislature

We're not sure how the NDP caucus allocates the speaking time in the Legislature, but when it comes to the topic of LNG development in the province, it would appear, at least from the Legislature draft minutes thus far, that the North Coast MLA isn't getting a lot of opportunity to share some thoughts.

Last week, the Legislature discussed a wide range of LNG issues during multiple sessions over four days, with Skeena MLA Robin Austin carrying the bulk of the discussion on behalf of the opposition.

Austin, of course, is an obvious choice to lead off the discussion for the NDP,  considering he has been named the opposition's Critic for Natural Gas Development.

And for a good period of the discussion in the Legislature, he carried the debate well for his party, offering up a number of themes for the chamber and asking a number of questions of the BC Liberals.

You can review some of those LNG themes from the Legislature drafts of the February 26th session, Mr. Austin's talking points on LNG and development in general start  just before the 15:40 mark

His contribution to the Legislature discussion can be also found on the Legislature Video Archive for the February 26th Afternoon session, he introduces his themes at the 127 mark of the video player.

Some of his key points culled from the draft minutes of the wide ranging and lengthy overview of the Northwest economic picture can be found below:

The big projects that are currently taking place are the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter rebuild; pre-work being done, particularly on one LNG site, between Chevron and Apache; and of course, the northwest transmission line. Those are the three large projects that at the moment are driving a resurgence in the Terrace and Kitimat economy. 

What people are seeing is workers coming from outside as a result of the fact there isn't enough skilled labour in our area. Now, we also have the highest unemployment rate anywhere in British Columbia still. We see workers coming from outside the region and a large pool of talent living locally who are not able to access these jobs. What do we see here? A government that says on the one hand that we're going to see a commitment to a ten-year skills-training plan in the throne speech but, in the budget that comes out a week later, a cut in the ministry for post-secondary education. 

Once again, what we see here is nice words — and throne speeches generally have lots of nice words — but the action to follow it doesn't give any of us who live in the northwest the confidence that we're going to actually not repeat what we're seeing today — which is that if we get a final investment decision on any of these large proponents, any of these large plants, what we're going to see in the years to come is more planeloads of people coming from outside the region while there are still people left unemployed and struggling in my communities. 

Now, I love the fact that we are going to be able to generate employment for British Columbians. That's a great thing. All of us here want to have employment for British Columbians. But as the representative for Skeena, I want to make sure that the jobs actually come first to the people who live in the local communities and then go to those who live in other parts of British Columbia. 

Then, if we can't find enough jobs for those people, then look to other Canadians — certainly, long before we bring in more foreign temporary workers. It is absolutely critical that we see this government understand that we are not going to have these proponents come in and make these decisions if they don't have access to skilled workers. In fact, earlier today I was meeting with one of the proponents. I've met with just about all of them, some of them several times. 

The proponents who I was meeting with earlier today were stating they had put together a large liquefied natural gas plant in Australia. That plant went over by $4 billion from the time it was started till the time it was finished. They actually alluded to another plant that they didn't build. Listen to this. This plant went over by $25 billion. 

When you ask them what the reason was, why these large capital projects went over, they stated: "Well, in the case of what happened in Australia, there simply wasn't enough skilled labour to do this. We had to bring in people from all over the world, and it became extremely expensive." That was one of the drivers that drove these projects to the point where this company…. And it's a very large company — so large it's one of the top 15 companies in the FTSE index, on the London stock exchange. 

They pointed out that Australia has now actually become completely uneconomic for any new LNG facilities because of the lack of skilled labour — just one of the reasons.

Austin spoke at length on many issues for the Northwest, raising concerns, offering insight and speaking at length on the impact of development in his riding.

Still, considering the importance of LNG terminal development to the North Coast, with a fair amount of our future development seemingly being attached to its prospects, you would think that the NDP would allow the North Coast representative to weigh in on the discussion.

Sharing with the Legislature and the folks back home on the North Coast some of her thoughts on the prospect of LNG development, where she stands on the topic and to relay any commentary from the North Coast riding to the theme.

So far, she's been very quiet when it comes to that topic, or much of any other it seems since the Legislature resumed. Her only mention in the Legislature records thus far her inquiries of February 17th regarding the status of a shuttle bus proposal for Highway 16.

Hopefully, the NDP will make some space in the speaking schedule for her to tackle some other items of interest to the North Coast, the ongoing LNG debate, as important as it appears to be to the economic future of the region, might be a good place for her to start.

For those with an interest in the work of our MLA in Victoria, we track on a weekly basis the events of the Legislature and any committee work with this Archive.

There are also more items of interest on the discussion and debate from Legislature on our Legislature Archive page.

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