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LNG projects a balancing act for the Opposition

It’s a “sellout” that protects the company at the expense of British Columbians and has nothing but vague outlines on matters of crucial importance to the province.
Premier-designate John Horgan is expected to release the NDP's transition team on Tuesday.

It’s a “sellout” that protects the company at the expense of British Columbians and has nothing but vague outlines on matters of crucial importance to the province.

That’s the early stance taken by the Opposition New Democrats on the LNG project-development agreement.

The NDP has been doing a balancing act ever since Premier Christy Clark made LNG a top priority. It maintained cautious support for the concept in general, because economic management is always a sensitive spot for the party and they didn’t want to be seen as against jobs and growth. But Opposition MLAs have been consistently critical of how the B.C. Liberals have executed the vision.

Green MLA Andrew Weaver rejects the whole concept. He says the economics will never work and has expressed concerns about the environmental impacts.

The NDP’s criticism will harden next week as the party zeroes in on the agreement under which the first project could take shape.

Leader John Horgan said this week: “New Democrats want to see an LNG industry develop in B.C., but the deal we saw revealed today looks like a good deal for Petronas and the other foreign multinational corporations involved, but not for British Columbians.

“It looks like Premier Christy Clark is prepared to sell out British Columbians in order to get a deal signed on her political timeline before the next election.”

He said there are no job or training guarantees. That could emerge as a long-running issue. It would take an estimated 4,600 people to build the project, and it’s not clear whether B.C. could supply that number.

It’s almost certain temporary foreign workers would be needed if other plants proceed, particularly while the Site C dam construction is proceeding.

The party’s LNG critic, Surrey-Whalley MLA Bruce Ralston, has said some of the proponents generally favour importing workers over local hiring.

Horgan said in the legislature that the company was proposing to fill 70 per cent of the B.C. jobs with temporary foreign workers. The company presented that as a worst-case possibility if there was a construction boom in B.C. and all available locals had already been hired.

But Horgan said: “One has to pause and ask: ‘Well, why have we been putting so much energy into doing this if it’s just for someone else?’”

The NDP’s support for LNG was based on getting a fair return, meeting environmental standards, creating jobs for British Columbians and dealing First Nations in.

“At first glance, it doesn’t seem this deal achieves any of that,” Ralston said.

All the government seems to have asked for is a commitment to start before the next election. That was driven by Clark’s “extravagant, grandiose” election promises. In return, the company gets significant costs locked in for 25 years.

“It’s very good for the company, not sure it’s good enough for citizens of B.C.”

Ralston said there are no apprenticeship guarantees, no hard numbers, no local procurement standards, other than for the company to make best efforts.

Although Finance Minister Mike de Jong held out such project agreements in Australia as relevant models for B.C., the NDP said at least one of them holds the proponent to much tougher commitments on local hiring. And it doesn’t give any long-term relief from tax hikes.

The first opportunities will go to British Columbians and Canadians “and thereafter workers who may come from elsewhere in the world to see opportunity here,” de Jong said.

“The structure is there to give effect to a shared intention, which is that British Columbians get first crack at this remarkable opportunity.”

Although the agreement has a lengthy term, de Jong stressed how limited it was in effect. The cost indemnities are being provided “in a very limited way in very limited areas.

“What we have really disincented by this indemnification process is discriminatory tax practices that single out this specific industry. Upon review and reflection, most people will see it as a reasonable, rational trade-off for the benefits that are going to accrue.”

Royalty rates for the gas itself are constrained in a separate agreement.

The most recent estimate is $9 billion in direct revenue to B.C. from single $36-billion project, the largest in B.C.’s history.