Thursday, January 19, 2017

From Lax Kw'alaams, Premier Clark outlines a potential campaign narrative for the North Coast

If those following politics on the North Coast are looking for some indication as to how the upcoming Provincial election campaign may play out in the region, some interesting themes were explored as part of Premier Clark's visit to Lax Kw'alaams on Wednesday.

As we noted in the blog on yesterday, the Premier and LNG and Housing Minister Rich Coleman toured the community north of Tuck inlet, with part of their time used to explore the Coast Tsimshian Academy and to meet meet the students, staff and parents.

Premier Clark touring the Coast
Tsimshian Academy on Wednesday

(photos from BC Gov't website)
Premier Clark and LNG and Housing
Minister Rich Coleman in Lax Kw'alaams
(photos from BC Gov't website)

The rest of the trip was spent reviewing some of the past projects that have been put in motion in that community from the new road to the Ferry Dock, to housing plans which were once again announced as part of the Wednesday gathering.

As well as the list of past projects and current initiatives, the Premier also touched on a number of areas where see believes Lax Kw'alaams and the Provincial government can work together.

But beyond the themes dedicated towards the people of Lax Kw'alaams, a blue print of sorts for the election campaign ahead began to emerge from the Premier's words. As she outlined her thoughts on what she called a "Durable Partnership", giving some indication as to how the BC Liberals may approach First Nation's issues across the province in the upcoming provincial campaign.

Included in her comments were themes of reconciliation and how we live in transformative times. With the Premier noting that the BC Liberals had been working hard with communities and First Nations across the province on a new path together, in recognition that it was well past time for real reconciliation between First Nations and Non First Nations communities. Adding that First Nations communities want more control over their own vision of community building.

"Fundamental to reconciliation is recognizing that First Nations communities do not want to depend on the Federal Government or the Provincial government in order to build your future. First Nation communities like every community, like every citizen across the province, want the ability to build your own future, based on the vision that you have for your children ...  and I don't mean a vision set out by another level of government, but one that is your creation and your future."

Following up on that narrative, the Premier offered up her concept of a foundation for moving forward, one that includes creating opportunity for wealth creation, education and a sound health care system.

"Reconciliation begins with First Nations communities fully participating in the economy of British Columbia and gaining, garnering the wealth that has come out of so many  of your communities in terms of resources but has never come back."

Premier Clark also provided an overview of the current efforts of the government through a program with the Royal BC Museum and First Nations leaders across the province to repatriate the sacred objects that have been stolen over the course of 200 years from First Nations across the province and have found their way to museums around the world. Stressing for those in attendance that it was time for those objects to be returned to First Nations communities.

She also reviewed the province's participation in a number of social and education programs and once again noted the need for more engagement on those issues.

On the theme of jobs the Premier outlined how such initiatives as the Tsimshian Roundtable was an investment that would deliver jobs and training opportunities and how attracting investment is something that should also flow to jobs for First Nations people.

"In the years ahead, supporting the jobs and making sure that First Nations people, Lax Kw'alaams people, have first crack at the jobs from Pacific NorthWest LNG. It means creating opportunities in these communities, in this community, and making sure that some of those benefits, many of those benefits stay in this community, rather than flowing out and finding their way elsewhere, especially down south which often happens"

She noted that while the province continues to post positive jobs numbers, not all communities are sharing in those opportunities, adding that for Lax Kw'alaams and other communities of the Northwest that their time will come, offering up that it will be through the work with community leaders that economic benefits will be brought to those communities.

You can review the Premier's themes from this audio archive of her comments at Lax Kw'alaams on Wednesday.

Whether voters in Lax Kw'alaams, or any other First Nation community will find her approach to engagement on their issues worthy of their support and further action, or just the latest in words from politicians looking for votes is something that won't be known until the votes come in on May 9th.

There are many other issues outstanding, key element for the North Coast which still need to be addressed by the Liberals, NDP, Green Party and others as the election campaign heats up and one imagine's that many of them will be raised between now and May.

But for now and in the lead up to the election, the Premier is clearly setting out the Liberals themes for future discussion and providing their views on how to bring change to the current dynamic between the communities and the government.

Following her time in Lax Kw'alaams, the Premier attended a North Coast Liberal event in Prince Rupert, rallying the party supporters and preparing the local Liberals for the election campaign to come.

On Saturday, BC Liberals will select the candidate on the North Coast that will carry the Premier's message into the upcoming election campaign.

Saturday's nomination meeting will also mark the unofficial launch of election season for the region as the Liberal's look to unseat incumbent NDP MLA Jennifer Rice.

For Ms. Rice and her party leader John Horgan, both the comments from the Premier and the events to come from this Saturday might be a signal that it's time to get re-engaged with the public across the North Coast and in particular with voters in Prince Rupert.

Incumbent NDP MLA Jennifer Rice
at the Legislature in 2016

The North Coast MLA has kept a fairly low profile in the riding for the most part over the last few months, her last comments of any kind relayed through her Social media platforms of Facebook and Twitter, as well as via her North Coast constituency website and many of those came from well before the Christmas break.

There are any number of issues that voters will want to hear her views on as the election campaign makes its way towards the May vote count.

Other than the occasional community event and accompanying photo that goes with such things, there have been few opportunities made available for the MLA to outline how she sees the riding progressing and to share her plans when it comes to improving conditions for residents of the North Coast.

The BC Liberal's have already made the Skeena riding a high priority for the campaign to come, once they have their candidate in place on the North Coast, they will no doubt be turning their attention to Ms. Rice's record while at the Legislature and raise a number of the issues that many are talking about in the community.

In the course of any election campaign, it's the candidate who delivers the message that resonates most with the voter that usually comes out at the top of the list, the voter given the task of deciding which option offers the best prospects for the future.

This week, the the Premier has offered up a glimpse of her vision of what path her party will have to offer the residents of the North Coast with a particular focus for those of First Nation communities, it will be a decision for voters in those communities to determine if the prospect of a durable partnership is one that they believe has potential.

For the NDP and for Ms. Rice in the North Coast, the task ahead is one of how they respond to that platform position and what they will have to offer, not only for those in First Nation communities, but for all voters across the region.

Further background on the upcoming provincial election campaign can be found on our North Coast Votes Election Archive page here.

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