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Students attend major gas conference

Premier Christy Clark, middle, poses with northwestern B.C. secondary students and others at a provincially-sponsored liquefied natural gas conference held in Vancouver last week. On the far left is local resident Lucy Praught from the Canadian construction services firm EllisDon and on the far right is Carol Leclerc, the Coast Mountains School District’s trades career coordinator. - Province of B.C.
Premier Christy Clark, middle, poses with northwestern B.C. secondary students and others at a provincially-sponsored liquefied natural gas conference held in Vancouver last week. On the far left is local resident Lucy Praught from the Canadian construction services firm EllisDon and on the far right is Carol Leclerc, the Coast Mountains School District’s trades career coordinator.
— image credit: Province of B.C.

The provincial government and companies working on developing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry spent approximately $60,000 taking nearly 60 Coast Mountains School District secondary school students, teachers and chaperones to a Vancouver LNG conference last week.

They were among 110 students, teachers and chaperones from the northwest at the May 21-23 provincial government-sponsored conference attended by 1,400 delegates.

“The provincial government offered funding to all school districts from the north to attend this conference, and that was the impetus for industry to sign on and fund the rest,” said Coast Mountains school board chair Art Erasmus, noting it was a unique field trip opportunity for students. Two Grade 10 planning classes, one from Caledonia Secondary School, and one from Mount Elizabeth Secondary School, Hazelton Secondary School's Intro to Trades class, and one student from Stewart's Bear Valley School made the trip.

The money was given to the school district in $800 per student subsidies in order to pay for travel and accommodation costs for northern students, confirmed a ministry of energy and mines spokesperson last week, noting that subsidies were provided based on location in the province.

The money came from revenue generated through the LNG conference and any costs on top of the $800 per student subsidy were paid by LNG companies at no cost to the school district.

Companies involved in the planning to build two pipelines to two LNG plants at Kitimat and two pipelines to two LNG plants at Prince Rupert contributed to the students' one-night trip.

A full delegate pass to the conference cost $1,680, according to the conference website, but students were given free admission.

Once at the conference, students toured the conference floor, which included a trade show, a post-secondary fair, interactive exhibits, and a Work BC program designed to help students identify potential career paths, and took photos with Premier Christy Clark.

Students also took part in a dinner and panel discussion with MLAs, including education minister Peter Fassbender and jobs minister Shirley Bond, toured the University of British Columbia, and visited the Vancouver Aquarium.

“The scope of the youth experience at the conference is broader than LNG,” said the ministry spokesperson. “Rather than government spending additional money to create an event just for youth, this conference is an opportunity to share information with our youth stakeholders through an existing event.”

Erasmus said the conference was a good opportunity for northwest students.

“Everything that kids can learn about life beyond the classroom is beneficial in terms of expanding their horizons,” he said.

But one local environmental group raised concerns that the students would not receive a balanced view of the LNG industry and its potential impacts.

“Students are young minds and easily moulded and they're forming opinions, and when industry offers an all expenses paid trip to an industry conference when 90 per cent of the speakers are pushing industry, I don't think they're getting a very balanced view,” said North West Watch representative Anne Hill. “I think it's much more than a field trip.”

Erasmus disagreed.

“If I'm a parent, and there's a conference where you can learn something about some topic, and it won't cost you anything as parent, why would the parent want to object to that regardless of where the money comes from?” he said.

“And remember our policy in terms of accepting donations, we don't endorse products and we don't endorse services,” he continued.

That policy states that any donation or sponsorship over $5,000 needs to be received in writing and co-ordinated by the secretary treasurer, a policy which Erasmus said was followed.

And there is interest in having the students at an upcoming board meeting to talk about their trip.

“It's not on the books yet but I'm certainly going to ask that we have some students come to a board meeting and tell us about it,” Erasmus said.

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