POLITICS

Clark vows independent review of tragic child case as Liberals pass LNG law

07/21/2015 04:59 EDT | Updated 07/21/2016 05:59 EDT
VICTORIA - What was supposed to be a short, celebratory legislative session for a multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas deal eroded for Premier Christy Clark's government amid a horrific child abuse case and a long-running scandal involving her government's firing of eight health researchers.

Lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session late Tuesday by passing the Liquefied Natural Gas Project Agreements Act, but it came on the same day Clark announced an independent review into what she called a heartbreaking case involving child abuse.

A B.C. court released a decision just days into the session saying social workers erred when a father was granted access to his four children despite court orders prohibiting unsupervised visits.

Opposition New Democrat Leader John Horgan said the Children and Family Development ministry consistently acted on behalf of the abusive father rather than the children.

"They put the abuser ahead of the children," he said.

British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Paul Walker delivered a scathing ruling last week in favour of the mother who sued the province for refusing to investigate her kids' reports of sexual abuse.

"This is a terrible, tragic case," said Clark. "Of course (a review) is going to have to be independent. It needs to be done by someone who isn't inside government."

The government recalled the legislature earlier this month for the extraordinary summer session to pass a single law to pave the way for what could be the province's first LNG plant. It passed with 43 Liberals voting yes, while 27 New Democrats and Green Party member Andrew Weaver opposed the bill.

The abuse case and the health firings fuelled turbulent debates in the legislature.

On Tuesday, Clark called the 25-year agreement with Pacific Northwest LNG, a joint venture company backed by Malaysian energy giant Petronas, a historic milestone. The company has yet to make its final investment decision on the proposed US$36 billion project located on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert.

"People will look back on this debate ... and see who stood where on what," Clark said. "Who had the long sight, the foresight, the vision to build something, to undertake something people said wouldn't be possible."

Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald danced a jig at the front steps of the legislature during a ceremony marking the progress of the proposed LNG project near his tiny north coast community.

The legislation protects Pacific Northwest LNG from targeted tax increases for 25 years and the project would be the largest private investment in B.C. history, creating 4,500 construction jobs and generating $9 billion in revenues in its first decade of operation.

Clark blasted the NDP for its decision to vote against the LNG law.

"The No Jobs Party argued from the very beginning that it would never happen," she said. "Every step of the way they said it was going to fail now."

Horgan said the deal is good for Petronas but not for British Columbians who are locked into a long deal.

The health firings scandal also forced the government this week to amend legislation that gives the province's ombudsperson more powers to investigate the scandal.

Ombudsperson Jay Chalke is now expected to be appointed as early as this month to conduct a review into the firings.

The NDP, the fired workers and their families have been calling for a public inquiry into the firings, but the government has refused, pushing instead for a review by the ombudsperson.

The Health Ministry announced the firings of the workers in September 2012 amid allegations of inappropriate and possible criminal conduct connected to drug research, but charges were never laid and the government later apologized to the workers and their families.