Clark talks up LNG, but not teachers

Premier announces LNG deal, as well as a moratorium on drilling near schools

The B.C. premier was in the Peace Region for only a few hours Friday, but in that time she rallied her troops, met with her critics, dodged her opponents and checked in on the industry that will make or break her legacy.

On Friday afternoon, Christy Clark met with First Nations leaders in Fort St. John upset about the pace of natural gas development, before flying to Dawson Creek to speak at two separate LNG events.

Before the day was over, she met with party faithful at a dinner event thronged with picketing teachers. And from there, Clark boarded a plane back to Victoria.

The visit was not without its share of important announcements. Perhaps most immediately impactful to the Northeast, the government announced a moratorium on oil and gas drilling within one kilometre of a school.

Clark also announced a deal with AltaGas, potentially worth $250 million, to develop LNG infrastructure in B.C. focused on helping homes and business in the North switch from diesel or propane to natural gas, which a government release called "the first agreement of its kind for domestic LNG."

The linchpin of the agreement, as previously reported by the Alaska Highway News, would be an LNG processing facility near Dawson Creek, expected to cost $22 million.

However, despite unofficial reports before and during Friday's visit that the plant was essentially a done deal, the letter of intent between Clark and AltaGas still says the company is only "considering" such a facility at this time.

Still, for the premier, it was mostly another day of checking in on the ground-level aspects of her government's high-profile LNG strategy.

The premier began her day in Fort St. John after a trip to Kitimat - the other side of her government's dream of getting B.C. gas to the world market.

At her first stop in the Peace, Clark sat down for a last-minute meeting with Treaty 8 leaders to address local First Nations concerns about the environmental impacts of development in the region.

Late last month, Treaty 8 Tribal Association Chief Liz Logan delivered an invitation to Clark at an LNG conference in Vancouver, asking for a meeting on June 21 to coincide with National Aboriginal Day. As previously reported, Logan had received no reply from the premier's office as of June 9, but Logan updated the Alaska Highway News in her regular column on Friday that the premier had in fact found time to meet.

Clark told the Alaska Highway News that the meeting was productive, and included an open invitation for chiefs to meet with her.

"What we talked about was resetting our government-to-government relationship, finding a way for us to sit down together and work through all the cumulative impacts [of LNG development]," she said at an event at her next stop, Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek, later that day.

But also in Clark's answer was a warning to those who would wish to slow the race to export LNG to lucrative Asian markets.

"One of the points that I made was that many First Nations people are in the natural gas industry here. One of the things we need to come to grips with is that we either need to export this resource and grow the industry, or we are going to see this industry shrink, along with the number of jobs and opportunities in the Northeast," she said. "The price of gas is not high enough in North America to sustain the jobs that are here today."

Logan could not be reached for comment by press time.

The next step of Clark's race to the sea will be developing a tax on gas - without which companies will not make decisions to invest in B.C. gas fields.

Clark said she was "absolutely rock-solid certain" that the LNG tax would be completed in the fall legislative session. However, she gave no hints on what the final tax rate on the resource might look like, beyond saying, "If we set the tax rate too high, we will get 100 per cent of zero."

Clark was whisked away by her driver moments before striking teachers arrived. Some booed and heckled the premier (one person yelled "don't come back" as she drove away).

She appeared next at the Encana Water Resource Hub outside Dawson Creek - a facility that extracts saline water from underground for use in fracking operations. There, she donned black coveralls (monogrammed with "Christy") and mingled among a crowd of workers in red and blue.

If LNG in B.C. is to succeed, Clark will need many more workers like those at the Encana facility. As she told the Alaska Highway News, the short supply of workers is a big concern for both the LNG industry and the Site C dam, which has yet to win the government's go-ahead.

Clark said Site C, if approved, would not compete for workers with LNG developments. The dam was approved tacitly by a Joint Review Panel earlier this spring despite many critics.

On her way back from the hinterlands, Clark was again greeted by picketing teachers, some of whom had tried to gain access to a Liberal party event at a Dawson Creek restaurant. Security at both entrances kept the parties separate, as Clark brushed off the BC Teachers Federation's calls for a mediator to settle the dispute over the teacher's contract.

"I'd be surprised if there would be a mediator, a credible one, who'd be prepared to take it on," she told the Alaska Highway News. "[The offers] just aren't close enough for a mediator at this stage."

BCTF Local President Lorraine Mackay said the rally was successful because it got the premier's attention.

"We did what we wanted to, which was make their heart beat faster for a few minutes," she said.

With her whirlwind tour complete, Clark was back on a plane south by just after 6 p.m.

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