VICTORIA — B.C. politicians started debating a multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas deal Monday which the Liberal government claims will lay the groundwork for the province's future.

The legislature began a special summer sitting to debate Bill 30, the Liquified Natural Gas Project Agreements Act, legislation that would allow the government to enter into a $36-billion LNG agreement.

"We don't have that many opportunities in this legislature to make history," Premier Christy Clark told the House.

"This is one of them."

'We can do better'

The government expects two weeks of debate on the bill, which Finance Minister Mike de Jong described as "one of those defining moments" for B.C.

The government needs legislative approval to enter into an agreement with Pacific NorthWest LNG, a consortium led by Malaysian energy giant Petronas; the company plans to build an LNG export terminal near Prince Rupert.

De Jong cast the 25-year deal as a crucial piece of a plan for the promised economic prosperity Clark laid out in her successful bid for re-election in 2013.

"This is an opportunity for the public, for legislators, to analyse and discuss the documents and legislation that will breathe life into a whole new industry and whole new era of opportunity in B.C.," he told reporters.

But NDP leader John Horgan claims the deal is bad for the province because it lacks guarantees for B.C. workers and gives up future tax revenues.

"The consequences of this decision that we are making throughout the next number of days will have profound impacts and influences on our children and on our grandchildren," he said.

"The job of the premier is to protect B.C. citizens, protect B.C. resources and build B.C. to be the great place it can be and should be. We can do better."

Under the terms of the 140-page deal, the province would compensate the LNG consortium if future governments:

  • Raise income rates for LNG operations.
  • Add carbon taxes that specifically target the industry.
  • Reduce natural gas tax credits.
  • Make changes to rules on greenhouse emissions that financially harm the industry.

If any of those factors were to cause the company financial harm, they could seek compensation of $25 million a year or more.

Jobs in question

De Jong introduced the bill at the start of the special session, but the majority of the afternoon question period was taken up with ongoing questions about the firing of eight ministry of health workers in 2012.

Clark rose to introduce a second reading of the LNG bill, and was interrupted several times by hecklers.

De Jong says the Pacific NorthWest project is expected to result in about 4,500 jobs at peak construction and generate nearly $9 billion in taxes and royalties by 2030.

But Horgan says there are no numbers written into the contract.

And he also pointed to a an environmental statement from Petronas that said Canadian workers would only account for 62 per cent of the onsite workforce overall, an amount that accounts for 2,450 workers.

The project faces a number of hurdles including opposition from native groups who have vowed to fight it in court.

In May, the Lax Kw'alaams Band rejected a $1-billion deal with Pacific NorthWest LNG to build a pipeline and terminal in Prince Rupert.

Last week, those opposed gained another supporter when the Gitga'at First Nation announced it would launch a judicial review of the LNG project, claiming it had been excluded from the provincial environmental assessment. The project is still awaiting federal environmental approvals.