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Clark toots Liberals’ horn before start of summer recess

B.C. Premier Clark said an education system that places strong emphasis on skills training and apprenticeships will mean jobs for residents in an anticipated resource-industry expansion fuelled by LNG developments.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Government plans to retool British Columbia's education system for what could be one million jobs in the resource sector tops Premier Christy Clark's list of achievements during the spring session of the legislature.

Ms. Clark said Thursday an education system that places strong emphasis on skills training and apprenticeships will mean jobs for residents in an anticipated resource-industry expansion fuelled by liquefied-natural-gas developments.

The B.C. Skills for Jobs Blueprint, introduced last month, forecasts the prospect of one-million jobs in the energy sector by 2022, including openings for thousands of welders, pipefitters and heavy-equipment operators to build the proposed liquefied-natural-gas industry and other resource projects.

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"We've been working on that for well over a year, and it is going to be a massive change in our education system in the way we fund it, the way we run it," said Ms. Clark, during a news conference hours before the legislature was set to adjourn for the summer. "I would say the most significant thing we accomplished over the year was creating that 10-year skills training plan."

The blueprint has three objectives to maximize the school-to-jobs plan, including focusing on early, hands-on learning in schools, shifting education to match jobs in demand, and entering partnerships with industry and labour to deliver training.

But as Ms. Clark touts future emphasis on skills training and apprenticeships for B.C. students, teachers and the government are locked in contract talks that have only produced ongoing rotating strikes across the province.

Teachers are slated to continue their job action next week, shutting down schools in the final month of classes.

Ms. Clark said delivering her government's second consecutive balanced budget, maintaining the province's top-ranked credit rating and issuing a joint formal apology to the Chinese-Canadian community for the more than 140-year-old head tax were major accomplishments during the session, which started in February.

The head-tax apology and the centenary of the Komagata Maru incident, which saw passengers from India denied entry to Canada at Burrard Inlet, came less than 18 months after the so-called quick wins scandal. In that scandal, the Liberals considered apologizing for historical wrongs to secure votes in ethnic communities.

Recently acclaimed New Democratic Party Leader John Horgan said the Chinese head-tax apology and the Komagata Maru recognition were events that galvanized all sides of the legislature.

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But division continued in the final hours of the legislative session, as the Liberals ended debate on contentious legislation to change the 1970s-era Agricultural Land Commission.

"They chose to ram it through, which is a big mistake," said Mr. Horgan.

NDP agriculture critic Nicholas Simons was asked to leave the legislature Wednesday in the final minutes before the bill was passed into law for refusing to withdraw unparliamentary language toward Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick.

He later returned to the legislature and withdrew his comments.

The Agriculture Land Commission Amendment Act splits the land reserve into two zones, making it easier to use farmland in the Kootenays and northern B.C. for other purposes such as oil-and-gas development.

Mr. Simons said two-year-old e-mails show just how long the plan to change the law has been in the works.

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Both Energy Minister Bill Bennett and former agriculture minister Pat Pimm stated in e-mails their concerns about ALC regulations and decisions impacting development plans by constituents.

Mr. Horgan said that while Ms. Clark points to future job prospects linked to LNG, the province's private-sector job creation numbers are the third worst in Canada. He also said the only confirmed LNG he's aware of is the recent $400-billion agreement between Russia and China.

"We've heard LNG, LNG, LNG. We've seen no results at all," he said.

Horgan said the government's promises to keep life affordable ring hollow, as hydro rates rise by almost 30 per cent and medical-services premiums and ferry fares continue to increase.

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