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B.C. Premier Christy Clark's ambition to develop a liquefied natural gas industry has attracted a flurry of proposals. But as the number of potential projects has mounted, investors have become increasingly alarmed about the prospect of a looming skills shortage if even a few go ahead.

The concern must be addressed before final investment decisions are made. LNG proponents say they do not want a repeat of their experience in Australia, where labour shortages led to cost over-runs and construction delays.

Ms. Clark says her objective is to ensure as many British Columbians as possible are qualified to benefit. But even top labour leaders acknowledge B.C. will have to import workers to meet the demand, and there is no plan to impose "local hire" quotas.

Kitimat's Rio Tinto smelter upgrade offers a picture of what B.C.'s construction crews might look like in the next few years. A project labour agreement with the B.C. Building Trades follows the hierarchy the province is looking for: Hire local first. But the trade unions are tapping affiliate organizations in other provinces and the United States to meet the terms of the agreement.

That puts foreign workers at the bottom of the list.

"If any temporary foreign worker is employed on the job, should it be necessary to reduce the working forces on the job or in the shop, the employer would terminate the temporary foreign worker before any other employees," one union contract says.