Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Prince Rupert Issues make for Throne speech response from MLA Rice

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice made use of her time towards the debate on last weeks Throne speech to share some areas of concern from Prince Rupert with the Legislature on Monday.

Speaking as part of yesterday's afternoon session, Ms. Rice tackled a range of topics, outlining how in her belief the provincial government's Throne Speech did not reflect the priorities of those living in the North Coast constituency.

Her opening comments examined issues related to care for Aboriginal kids in care, making note of the recent report Broken Promises, delivered by Bernard Richard, the Actiong Representative for Children and Youth calling attention to those findings and how the province is failing in addressing the issues that have been raised by it.

Ms. Rice then shifted towards infrastructure concerns, with a review for the Legislature of some of the many issues facing the City of Prince Rupert and how the burden of preparing for the much promised  industrial development on the North Coast is falling on the city.

With Ms. Rice making note that while a flurry of Benefit Agreements have been signed around the region, none have as of yet been negotiated with the City of Prince Rupert.

Well, I eagerly await this announcement. Just ask the city of Prince Rupert how it's managing its infrastructure needs. Lead in the drinking water, a failing dam, no sewage treatment, crumbling roads and yet not one LNG agreement made with the municipality to support the supposed influx of workers from the coming LNG bonanza promised four years ago by the Premier. Nothing for Prince Rupert to prepare for industry, yet the burden falls to the city to support this industry.

Health care also received some focus from the North Coast MLA, who pointed towards her concerns  towards issues at the city's Acropolis Manor.

In the Acropolis Manor in Prince Rupert, when it comes to bathing — something we all take for granted — it's the first things to go. Sometimes residents don't get the one bath they're allowed a week. Often the care aides are too busy, they're overworked, they're short-staffed, and they don't get to the bath. It could go two or three weeks or more before someone gets a bath in Acropolis Manor. There's not one single mention of improving this kind of care for seniors in the throne speech, let alone improving the situation for workers that are being run ragged and burning out.

Education also made for a theme of review from Ms. Rice, who first addressed the British Columbia government's approach to the recent settlement between the BCTF and the Province, noting that while the Government was hailing the work towards a negotiated settlement, she also remembers when the Premier as Education Minister in 2002 "ripped up teachers' contracts'.

Of a more local concern related to education, the North Coast MLA addressed the need for seismic upgrades and even replacement facilities in the Prince Rupert area.

Well, in 2005, the B.C. Liberal government promised all schools would be seismically upgraded by 2020. In 2015, they pushed that deadline to 2025, and 2030 for schools in Vancouver. Before the last election, this government promised 45 high-risk schools would be seismically upgraded by 2016. The Premier is now using excuses, like low enrolment, to delay these necessary upgrades. As of January 2017, 118 schools haven't even started to receive seismic upgrades that they muchly need.

That includes the Prince Rupert Middle School, where students are waiting to be assessed, lack support from specialist teachers, have complex classroom compositions and are experiencing overcrowding, safety concerns in labs and shop classes and foods, especially. Secondary students can't get all of the classes they need to graduate unless they complete on-line learning. Parents are outraged. 

Let me return to the seismic upgrades. At Prince Rupert Middle School, parents, students and teachers need to see follow-through. Prince Rupert has three empty school buildings due to school closures to reach that so-called 95 percent capacity that's required. The only middle school, PRMS, desperately needs replacement. Still, families are waiting.

Going  further, Ms. Rice also called attention to some of the issues that are found with the city's Middle School,  offering up a list of concerns that need to be addressed by the Ministry of Education.

The building needs needs $8 million in seismic upgrades and $9 million just to upgrade the delayed building repairs. A new building costs $22 million, and I'm hearing parents concerns weekly. It's dire. The building is sinking in the rear because it's on a toxic dump site. Asbestos is still in the walls. Fumes from the sludge below are seeping into the classrooms. They used to dump the toxic sludge out, but after 1995, all the fish in the nearby stream died, and so now it still festers underneath students' classrooms. 

Now, WorkSafe did test the substance and deemed it safe to stay below the classrooms, but parents and teachers are questioning these fumes. They bubble up intermittently, and rooms need to be vacated. This is happening right now in Prince Rupert. They're working with an air quality specialist, because parents don't believe they tested the gases adequately. Staff and students are experiencing reactions, such as lung and asthma issues. The school desperately needs replacement. The throne speech is quite vacuous and, I believe, failing everyday British Columbians, especially and most notably our children.

Ms. Rice's thoughts on education can be examined from the video item from the Legislature below:

As we noted on the blog yesterday, the topic of a replacement school for Prince Rupert Middle School is one which School District 52 is addressing this year, with the expectation that an announcement related to the issue will be delivered by the province this year.

Through the course of her fifteen minute presentation to the Legislature, Ms. Rice touched on a few other areas of note, a few of her notes explored LNG development, job creation, taxes and fees and what she referred to as the Broken promises of the Liberal government

You can review the full speech to the Legislature from the Record of proceedings here.

Once the Legislature technicians solve the electronic gremlins, a video review the rest of her allotted time from Monday afternoon for the Speech from the Throne can be viewed from the Legislature  Chamber Video archive here.

For more items related to developments from the British Columbia Legislature see our archive page here.

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