Saturday, November 8, 2014

Prince Rupert Housing issues, Jobs and Training among items raised by MLA Rice during Legislature session

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice took the Provincial Government to task this past week, calling the Liberal LNG tax regime prospects as a colossal  failure, providing for greatly reduced expectations for potential LNG revenues.  Noting for the Legislature how the communities that are in the proposed development areas are in need of assistance from the government in a number of areas and in need of assistance now.

At times showing frustration with the governing Liberals in the Legislature, the MLA spoke to the topic of LNG in the Monday afternoon session. Focusing a good portion of her attention to what she outlined was a growing housing crisis in the community.

Ms, Rice reviewed how she and her office staff have had growing numbers of local residents coming to her office seeking her assistance on housing issues, detailing their struggles to find affordable housing, or any form of housing in the community for that matter.

She also highlighted what she called the Government's belittling of the NDP positions on such concerns, suggesting that the Liberals had turned the recent discussions away from any form of serious review of issues and instead had decided to just pick on the NDP .

Going further to highlight her frustrations, she suggested that the debate in recent days was one of the most juvenile of debates she's been involved with since her arrival at the Legislature.

Some of the points that the MLA explored during the course of her review, included the much discussed state of Prince Rupert's infrastructure and the need for the City to receive some kind of assistance to address those growing concerns.

 I would like to know what the Minister of Social Development, who is prattling on right now, is doing about that. The Minister of Housing, the Deputy Premier, has said we can’t do anything until we’ve reaped the benefits of LNG, which we know are decades down the line. That is not helping the people in my community right now.

The community that I live in is facing a $250 million infrastructure deficit right now. We flush our sewage directly into the ocean. We have one small part of our town that has primary sewage treatment. We still, to this day, get our drinking water from wooden pipes, and this LNG bonanza has yet to do anything to help us prepare for the influx of workers we’re supposedly getting. We can barely treat our own sewage and have a precarious water supply, and yet we are supposed to just deal with that after we’ve reaped the benefits of LNG, decades down the line?

On the theme of the housing situation in the community, Ms. Rice made comment on the lack of support from the Liberal government to local concerns on the issue. Detailing the nature of the situation in Prince Rupert and the growing sense of frustration for those that have to address the situation on the local level.

There has been a record number of people in the last few months, compared to the last nine years, come through my office doors in dire need of affordable housing. They are being evicted on the hype of LNG. Once or twice I thought this was a little bit strange, but it is a chronic occurrence ...

I spoke to a real estate agent in my community, and she’s been doing property management for 20 years. She said to me: “Jennifer, in 20 years I’ve never seen a zero percent vacancy rate.” And we have a zero percent vacancy rate, all based on the speculation of LNG.

Well, that’s fantastic. Where is the support for the communities to prepare for this? There is nothing. We have a Deputy Premier, a Minister for Housing, who belittles us when we ask for support. 

Housing has become a major aspect of concern for Prince Rupert City Council in recent months, and has become a part of the run up to the municipal election of next Saturday, with a number of Candidates for Council having offered up their ideas on how to address the issue.

Ms. Rice also had some thoughts when it came to the promise of jobs related to LNG development, making comment on the grandiose plans that have been spoken of by the Provincial Government and how little of that has yet to materialize in Prince Rupert.

She did some number crunching for the Liberal government and observed as to how if even two LNG plants were to be built on the North Coast, the employment level provided would still be less than the numbers that were employed when the Skeena Pulp Mill was operating ten years ago.

It’s just that the people in my community, who haven’t seen a boom in over a decade, have been anxiously awaiting this prosperity that we were so promised. We were guaranteed a trillion-dollar industry for the north, 100,000 jobs, a debt-free B.C., the prosperity fund, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I guess the frustration is that everyone knew that it was going to be as it is right now — except for the members opposite, who now are finally having to admit that it’s not this grandiose plan that it was set out to be. 

I live in Prince Rupert, and I live on the north coast, so I have to listen. I have to be there with the people in my community that are suffering or who have lost their hope, who were promised so much and are now in my office trying to find an apartment they can afford.

Ms. Rice  also called attention to training and education in the community, providing a snap shot of the Prince Rupert campus of Northwest Community College as akin to a ghost town, such are the lack of training options there.

Well, in fact, my community college is quiet. It’s like a ghost town in the halls. You can’t tell it’s a community college. In fact, they cut skills training and upgrading at my college. So I’m still waiting, as the people in Prince Rupert are, for these benefits.

She wrapped up the eleven minutes of her presentation, by making note of her support towards the development of the LNG industry, but with a string of observations regarding how the industry should proceed in the riding.

I support the LNG industry, providing it provides local jobs — not just local jobs; good-paying jobs. I support LNG if the local people in my community who are going to be impacted by these projects get the training and jobs. I support the LNG industry if we reap a fair share of the resource. 

I support the LNG industry if First Nations are included and they receive benefits from this industry. And I support the LNG industry, providing we are protecting our air, land and water.

You can review the full transcript of her remarks to the Legislature from the Minutes for Monday Afternoon, posted to the Legislature website, Ms. Rice delivers her commentary at just after the 17:45 mark

For more items on the North Coast MLA's participation in Legislature sessions see our MLA's week archives, for a wider review of developments in Victoria see our Legislature Archive page here.

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