Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rice to Liberals: Risky to put all our eggs in the LNG basket

Earlier this week we made mention that Skeena MLA Robin Austin appeared to be carrying the bulk of the LNG discussion in the Legislature since the current session started in February.

 Wondering if the NDP caucus might let Jennifer Rice, the MLA for the North Coast, and who represents one of the communities that is at the centre of all the proposed development, be allowed to share some thoughts.

Those digital bytes had barely reached the Internet, when we scanned the Legislature Records for this week and discovered that Ms. Rice took to the Legislature on Monday afternoon, having settled in to offer up some points for thought.

As part of her debut speech for this session on the theme of the Liberal budget, Mr. Rice, offers up caution to the Provincial Government, suggesting that they not put all of their economic eggs into the LNG basket, frequently referring to the province's LNG strategy as some kind of panacea.

Among her take on the LNG issue, were concerns over the impact on habitat destruction and climate change targets, as well as a lack of focus on skills training.

A boring budget lacks the needed boldness that will tackle uncomfortable issues such as growing industrial development and habitat destruction; LNG development while also maintaining our own climate change targets; and the issue of needed skills training, while at the same time we have the use of temporary foreign workers. Not to mention growing inequality and poverty amongst our citizenry.

On the theme of the growing list of proposed projects for the Northwest, the MLA had concerns over
the approach the Provincial government is taking and some of the pitfalls that she believes follow that path.

Time and time again we've heard how LNG is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we must act quickly or we'll lose out to other jurisdictions such as Australia. And yet we still have no real, concrete plan, no idea what this panacea is going to look like. There is no funding for communities such as mine in Prince Rupert to prepare for its first boom in over a decade. We still have wooden water pipes, and we lack primary sewage treatment in a marine area known for its global ecological significance.

The whole panacea of LNG seems to have been at the cost of the forestry and the tourism sectors. I think it's really risky to put all our eggs in the LNG basket, particularly as that industry is saying one thing and the provincial government is saying another. 

Touching on the large list of would be LNG proponents, she suggested that the province is not approaching the question of LNG development realistically and doesn't have a strategy in place to address what she believes will be skills shortage in the Northwest

Industry seems to be more realistic, talking about one or two projects maybe coming to fruition, yet there are nine to 12 that are proposed for the north coast. People in my communities, such as Prince Rupert, are very anxious for the jobs that these industries will supposedly bring. Many need skills training and upgrading, yet we've seen a cut to those parts of the budget. 

If I could just summarize, there's no question that we have a skills shortage, yet we have no strategy to deal with the skills shortage. I'm particularly interested in this because people are anxious in North Coast, with high unemployment, to actually embrace these LNG jobs that are supposed to be our panacea. Yet we don't really seem to have a strategy of getting those people on the ground. .

She also finds fault with the Province's approach to First Nations in the region, a strategy which she believes is lacking and does not take into account the sudden surge of development and the pressures that will come with it.

. . There's no doubt that in North Coast 44 percent of my constituents are aboriginal. Yet there is very little in the budget to talk about, with these increasing pressures that are going to be put on northern communities, a real strategy for dealing with aboriginal land claims or even just aboriginal issues in general. I don't see how we can have the LNG panacea without a real strategy around aboriginal needs, particularly in the northern part of our province

Ms. Rice's efforts on the LNG discussion mark the first lengthy review of her thoughts on the topic.

Her commentary in the Legislature this week, does however provide the Liberals and voters of the North Coast, with a bit of a baseline to follow for future reference on the theme of LNG development.

For many, it may be the first glimpse they've had as to where she is on the topic and how she's representing the views of the constituency that she represents.

You can review the full exchange through the Legislature Record of March 3rd, Ms. Rice's talking points arrive just after the 1700 mark on the register on the side of the page.

Her presentation to Legislature chamber is also available through the Video Archive of the Afternoon session for March 3rd, The LNG discussion part of the larger Budget review starts up at the 212:00 mark of the Legislature Video player.

You can review more of our items of note on Provincial politics from our Legislature Archive page.

For more on LNG development on the North Coast we have a wide range of topics available on our LNG Development Archive page.

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