09/25/2014 04:00 EDT | Updated 11/25/2014 05:59 EST

B.C. LNG Must Be 'About Building Communities, Not Camps': John Horgan

VICTORIA - The promised massive benefits of British Columbia's liquefied natural gas industry must flow to residents and not to big energy companies, New Democrat Leader John Horgan told a crowd of politicians on Thursday.

Horgan told delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler, B.C., that provincial jobs, not tax breaks to the energy companies should be the provincial government's priority.

His comments come amid reports that Malaysia's Petronas is threatening to call off a proposed LNG project near Prince Rupert on B.C.'s northwest coast. The company says it is concerned the government hasn't done enough to convince the firm that it would be worthwhile to invest.

The multibillion-dollar proposed LNG project is one of more than a dozen currently being considered in B.C.'s northwest, but none have been given the green-light.

Premier Christy Clark, who has said LNG development represents a trillion-dollar economic opportunity for the province, told reporters Thursday that the "public discussion" from Petronas chief executive Shamsul Abbas were all part of the negotiation process.

"I'm confident that Petronas and British Columbia are going to come to a good agreement, one that respects the fact that British Columbians, the owners of this resource, deserve some benefit."

Clark's government is expected to introduce proposed LNG legislation when the legislature resumes sitting on Oct. 6.

The last budget included details of a proposed two-tier LNG income tax that starts at 1.5 per cent and could escalate to seven per cent once a plant is running, but energy companies have said seven per cent is too high.

"It has to be about building communities, not camps," said Horgan. "About respecting First Nations. About protecting our air, water and land. And, most importantly, about returning a benefit to all British Columbians."

He said New Democrats will take a four-pillar approach to LNG development, which includes jobs for British Columbians, involvement of First Nations, benefits to communities and the world's greenest LNG.

"The four elements we want to ensure are, firstly, that the jobs that will be created from an expansion of our natural gas sector go to British Columbians and we're appropriately trained and we don't see a massive influx of temporary foreign workers," Horgan said.

Horgan said a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling granting title to 1,750 square kilometres of land southwest of Williams Lake to the Tsilhqot'in emphasizes the requirement of governments to include First Nations in resource development decisions.

The Kitimat-area Haisla Nation has been an active participant in proposed LNG developments in northwest B.C. as have Tsimshian First Nations near Prince Rupert.

Horgan said the NDP also intends to hold the government to its promise to ensure B.C.'s LNG is the cleanest in the world.

Environmental groups say permitting LNG plants to operate with natural gas rather than electricity will elevate green house gas emissions, but Clark has said B.C.'s proposed gas-burning LNG plants will ultimately reduce pollution in Asia because natural gas is better for the environment than burning coal.

"Commitments that were made before the (May 2013) election that our LNG industry will be the greenest in the world have to be abided by," Horgan said.

He said he also plans to remind the Liberals that there's more to B.C. and economic development than LNG.

"All this government wants to talk about is LNG," he said. "I heard it from businesspeople in Penticton. I heard it again in Kamloops. I heard it again in Vernon. No government has the luxury of paying attention to just one thing at a time."

He said while the government dreams about LNG wealth, health care continues to deteriorate with B.C. running some of the worst hospitals in Canada, traffic congestion worsens in the Lower Mainland and single mothers on social assistance continue to face claw backs of support payments.

"Things aren't what they could be. We can do better," Horgan said.