“I think British Columbia is going to be the economic engine of Canada and I think the Northwest is going to be the economic engine of BC.”
That was the bold pronouncement of premier Christy Clark after her fly-over of the site of the proposed KM LNG liquefied natural gas plant and a meeting with the Haisla last Monday.
Pointing out phases one and two of the KM LNG plant would create 3,000 jobs and $4.5 billlion in investment, she added that was just one project “and there are five other companies that have expressed interest in LNG up here.”
Saying the Northwest was on the cusp of a huge change, Clark acknowledged “it’s been a part of the province that hasn’t had a lot of economic activity for a long time. That’s about to change.”
Emphasizing the opportunities for employment, she said, “We’re talking thousands and thousands of jobs on projects that have already been approved and are going to be going ahead in the next year, year-and-a-half.”
That said, “You can enable the creation of those jobs but how do you feed the jobs with people who are prepared to work in them?”
Clark said the question for government was “How do we make sure that the money that we’re already investing in training and post-secondary education is going to train people for the jobs that actually exist?”
And added that right now a lot of people were being trained for jobs that didn’t.
To do that, she said government had to analyze what the economic opportunities were going to be, then match the training system to those findings.
Secondly, those opportunities had to be made available in local communities. “You shouldn’t have to leave a community like Kitimat to get a job,” Clark said. “You should be able to stay here.”
That meant being able to get the training here – or close by – and be hired here.
Asked if there was enough time to train people given many of the jobs she had referred to need to be filled in the short term, Clark conceded there was a challenge but added it was possible to train people for a lot of the jobs in one to four years.
“Let me give you an example of a job that there’s a real shortage of in BC right now – truck drivers,” she said. “You can train someone to be a truck driver in the course of a year, it’s a well paying job and there’s a demand for it.”
She added there were mills in Chetwynd that were having to slow down production because of a lack of truck drivers.
Clark noted that the province needed mining engineers and people with PhDs in highly skilled scientific areas and that training took a lot of time. “We have to be investing in that, but we should also be investing in the kinds of training that someone can use over the course of a year and find a job.”
She said the problem in the past had been a lack of co-ordination in tracking the needs of the economy, what jobs were going to be available in the Northwest and how to build a training program to match.
“What we do now is we provide all this training and education and we’re almost lucky if it meets the needs of the economy – and that’s not the way to do it.”
While in the Northwest Clark also visited Prince Rupert as part of a five-stop tour during which she outlined the Liberals job plan – government getting out of the way of job creation (a speedier permitting process), building the infrastructure so products can get to market, and opening up those markets.
After the meeting with the Haisla, she stopped briefly in Kitimat for a meeting with mayor Joanne Monaghan and municipal manager Ron Poole, and an interview by the Northern Sentinel.