OTTAWA – Premier Christy Clark is projecting British Columbia will rival energy giant Alberta in terms of “contribution to Canada” once the province starts exporting liquefied natural gas to Asia.
Clark was preaching the gospel of natural gas exports Monday in Ottawa with a large delegation that included about two dozen energy industry business people and three First Nations leaders.
“We have a chance in British Columbia to do as much or more for the country as Alberta has done,” Clark said of her province’s energy export potential.
“We should all be very proud of what Alberta’s contributed to Canada. We have our chance in B.C. now to make a similar sized contribution to Confederation, and we want to do it.”
However, no final investment deals have been signed and Clark could not predict whether any will be completed this year.
The latest B.C. budget didn’t project revenues from liquefied natural gas for the next three years.
Greg Rickford, the federal natural resources minister, told the House of Commons the Conservative government approved four long-term LNG export licences for British Columbia last week.
“The growing demand for natural gas makes Asia an ideal place for diversifying our energy markets,” Rickford told the House as Clark watched from the visitor’s gallery.
“Estimates suggest that the natural gas sector could create 54,000 jobs per year between 2012 and 2035 in British Columbia.”
The B.C. government used the Ottawa visit to sign accords with the federal government on skills training and immigration — preparation, says Clark, for a potentially inflationary labour shortage in her province.
The premier is predicting B.C.’s liquefied natural gas industry will soon be competing for workers with Alberta’s oilpatch and Saskatchewan’s potash industry.
“What we want to do is come up with a national strategy — particularly for British Columbia, but for all of the country — that will mean we don’t experience the wage inflation that we are likely to see if we don’t address these (labour) issues,” Clark told a news conference on Parliament Hill.
“And we can’t build an industry in our province or in this country if we see wages, if we see huge wage inflation.”
A big increase in the number of temporary foreign workers permitted into Canada has raised concerns that employers are using cheap foreign labour to undermine Canadian wages.
By the end of 2012, the number of temporary workers was estimated to have doubled in seven years to about 340,000. Most of the growth followed the 2008-09 recession, when unemployment was still running high in Canada.
That sparked a public backlash to which the Harper government responded in its latest budget by tightening up the temporary foreign worker program it had previously loosened.
“When it comes to jobs in (oil and gas) or any other sector, local Canadians come first with an emphasis on under-represented groups in the workforce like Canadian youth and aboriginals,” Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Monday.
“Other Canadians come second and will hopefully increase labour mobility across the country.”
Kenney said “under-employed immigrants” also need to be involved.
“And finally, the temporary foreign worker program should only be used as a last resort on a limited basis.”
Follow @bcheadle on Twitter