Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Robin Austin takes charge of the Northwest discussion on LNG in Legislature

The last two weeks have provided for much discussion at the British Columbia  Legislature on the twin themes of LNG development and Green House Gas issues, with some of the rhetoric and rebuttal getting rather heated at times in the debating chamber.

As we outlined yesterday, the North Coast's MLA Jennifer Rice offered up a few thoughts on the theme, through a seven minute or so contribution to the discussion last week, however, when it comes to the full Northwest perspective, Skeena's Robin Austin is clearly carrying the load for the region and his party.

Austin who was named as the Northern Economic Critic for the NDP in July, has been a featured speaker through the last two weeks, with a fairly in-depth contribution to the topic delivered last week.

October 27 -- Afternoon Session 17:55 to 18:10 mark

Since the return of the Legislature last month, Austin and the NDP have continued to press the governing Liberals and LNG Minister Rich Coleman in particular on a number of LNG issues.

On Monday, some of the line of NDP questioning led to a frustrated Minister Rich Coleman to express a few pent up thoughts and emotions on the approach of the opposition when it comes to LNG:

I just think it's great that as soon as you hit a nerve, they all start to chip and chirp and go on because they know I just figured out what they did. They oppose LNG. They also opposed the cleanest LNG in the world ...

The funny thing about that is they claim to be caring about the environment, and then they vote against something that actually puts British Columbia in the window as the cleanest producers of LNG in the world. Interesting, isn't it? 

I'm sure they'll vote against the tax, because they won't want British Columbians to get their fair return on the dollars that come through LNG in B.C. They'd rather just keep it in the ground. -- Natural Gas Minister Rich Coleman on LNG and Green House Gas emissions in the Legislature on Monday afternoon

The full account of the Minister's commentary can be found in the Legislative Record from the 15:55 mark to the 16:25 mark

Mr. Austin addressed the Minister's comments during the course of his discussion points during the yesterday's afternoon/evening session.

I just want to speak for a moment in regards to the Minister of Natural Gas Development harping on and berating this side of the House for voting against last week's Bill 2 in regards to greenhouse gas emissions. 

He said that we're delaying the LNG industry by voting against that bill. We voted against that bill because that side of the House promised to bring in the cleanest energy in the world and then exempted 70 percent of all of the emissions from the LNG industry. 

That hardly says very much about what they want to do. Also, he says that we're delaying it. I heard the Minister of Natural Gas himself last year say that they would have this bill in this House by the end of the fall session last year, 2013 — end of November. 

That never happened. There was no fall session. Why? Because this government that says they're in a big hurry to bring forward LNG never did the work to bring it about. -- Skeena MLA Robin Austin on LNG issues in the Legislature on Monday

As for more local concerns, Mr. Austin has been making frequent mention of how he believes the LNG issue is having an effect on the region, on Monday the Skeena MLA offered up a review of events in Prince Rupert as part of his examination of the current situation regarding the proposed LNG industry.

Let's talk about 100,000 jobs for a moment. In my colleague's riding, to the west of me, there was a large pulp mill. It went down, I think, in about the year 2003. When that pulp mill went down there were 620 direct jobs — never mind spinoff jobs — that were lost. 

Currently there are two large potential LNG plants in Prince Rupert. Just remember now that we lost 620 direct jobs in the northwest, in Prince Rupert. Now one of them, unfortunately, we've just heard, is being put on hiatus. It may have a decision in a couple of years, but it looks like, listening to what they're saying in the media, the BG Group might put their project on hold for a number of years. 

My point is this, in relation to this exaggerated claim that we would have 100,000 jobs. Once an LNG plant is built, and once the pipeline is built, they actually are not hugely labour-intensive. They are, of course, hugely capital-intensive. That just describes some of the sort of weasel words that have been used in order to get elected, but, in fact, the reality is not what it is. --Robin Austin speaking to Legislature Monday on LNG development  in Prince Rupert

Mr. Austin then addressed some of the social issues in his riding of Skeena, with a focus related to the current pace of industrial expansion and what may come from LNG development:

The housing situation in our communities has gone from a high vacancy rate…. In Kitimat, it was 42 percent, the highest vacancy rate in all of British Columbia. You could rent a two-bedroom apartment for $400 about two and a half years ago — $400 for a two-bedroom apartment. Now there is zero vacancy, and that same apartment is probably renting for anywhere between $1,500 and — yes, this is no exaggeration — $2,500, in a small town like Kitimat.

So what does that do to people living there who are not part of these new industries that have high wages? People who are on fixed incomes, seniors, people who are only part-time employees? It puts a huge problem on them, and that's the kind of challenge that we're talking about.

Austin also touched on issues related to the high unemployment rates of some areas of the Northwest and the need to make sure that local training opportunities are available through Northwest Community College to ensure that local residents receive benefits from LNG development.

I think it's very, very critical for all of us who live in the northwest to see that, if we get to a final investment decision, when the government actually sits down and writes a project agreement with any proponent, people in the northwest take advantage of Northwest Community College, take advantage of other training opportunities and ensure that these people — many people who have never worked.... Many people left high school and have never worked in northwest B.C., particularly in First Nations communities but not only in First Nations communities. 

It's imperative that we use these project agreements to put in place the kind of training that's required to give people the skills so that we don't end up seeing what we've seen in the last two or three years, which is planeloads of people coming from outside the area while we still have quite high unemployment rates in our own home communities. That is an incredibly important thing. This should be seen not just as an opportunity to bring tax revenue and jobs. But by training people, we are building the future capacity to replace all of those tradespeople who are retiring.

You can review the full range of the discussion from the Legislature Record and view his thirty minute examination of the LNG files from the Legislature Video Archive here (Chamber Video from Monday afternoon).  Mr. Austin's contribution starts at the 1700-1730 mark.

For more items on events from the British Columbia Legislature see our archive page here.

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