Economic themes are making for the first salvos in the political battle for the North Coast seat in the British Columbia Legislature, with incumbent MLA Jennifer Rice leading off some of the discussion with her view on the Northwest economy and what she believes is the poor handling of economic issues in the region by the BC Liberal government.
Her commentary came as part of the official announcement of her new duties as an NDP shadow critic for northern and rural economic issues.
From her observations, Ms. Rice, while noting of some of the economic potential on the horizon, adopted mostly a theme of a Prince Rupert that has been abandoned by Premier Christy Clark and her fellow Liberal cabinet colleagues.
“Northern and rural communities have been left behind by Christy Clark because she puts rewarding friends and donors above the best interests of ordinary people.
“That’s why we’ve seen nine out of 10 new jobs go to Metro Vancouver at a time when the rest of the province is struggling. Because that’s where Christy Clark’s big real estate donors live and that’s where they make their money.
“We need leadership that is serious about building the economy throughout the province, not just in metro Vancouver. And I’m part of a team that will deliver that.
On the theme of the local economy, Ms. Rice looks back at what she calls the last 10 years of failed leadership by BC Liberals, suggesting it would seem, that the Premier and the Liberals have been missing through much of the struggles of the riding over the last decade.
“Prince Rupert once had a robust economy and thriving population but has been neglected by the Christy Clark government for far too long. We have huge potential with the next phase of the Fairview Container Port Terminal expansion and Alta Gas’ propane export terminal. I am looking forward to working with port partners, local governments and local communities to facilitate economic development that works for everyone.”
“Christy Clark has had six years to help Prince Rupert and other northern communities, and she’s failed. We’re no better off with her than we were with the previous 10 years of failed B.C. Liberal leadership.
The MLA also expanded her overview to areas of Haida Gwaii and the Central Coast, with some thoughts directed towards issues related to BC Hydro and BC Ferries.
“Life has become harder because northern families and northern communities have been hit the hardest by Christy Clark’s unfair fee hikes and bill increases – like increases to B.C. Hydro rates and ferry fares. Cuts to B.C. Ferries have negatively impacted the economies of Bella Coola and Haida Gwaii; these cuts are driving away jobs and forcing people to choose between paying rent and paying for heat and food.
The only other competitor for the seat at the moment is BC Liberal Herb Pond and he was quick to pick up on some of Ms. Rice's themes this week, offering up his counterpoint to her talking points by way of a Facebook page posting.
His opening commentary took the NDP candidate's view of the local issues to task, mixing a review of some of the past troubles that had been found in the region, while offering up a more positive review of the current prospects for the North Coast and Prince Rupert in particular.
While accepting your new assignment as critic for northern economic development, you claimed that the North Coast is "no better off than we were 10 years ago".
History disagrees with you, and so do I.
Ten years ago in Prince Rupert, hundreds of jobs had been lost, hundreds of families had been forced to leave, and countless storefronts had been left empty.
The pulp mill had closed, a major fish plant burned down, access to salmon was reduced, and coal shipments had dropped off.
Mr Pond further called upon his time as Mayor to remind the NDP candidate of the recent history of the region and where Prince Rupert finds itself today, compared to ten years ago.
Seniors saw the value of their homes plummet. Parents felt that their children had no future. High school students, including all four of my children, were forced to leave after graduation without a hope for a job here. That’s why I took on the challenge of mayor.
During the darkest economic times in our history, our team at City Hall had to make extremely difficult decisions just to keep the lights on. But despite the unbelievable hardships, people never lost hope or optimism in this place.
So before you claim that we are no better off, please reflect on our resilience. Be reminded of how far we have come.
The Liberal candidate then shifted his focus towards the future, offering up a bit of a laundry list of sorts related to some of the recent announcements out of City Hall and the District of Port Edward, as well as from local First Nations communities as to the promise of better times to come.
We are finally starting to realize our potential – thanks to the hardworking women and men of the waterfront, Fairview Container Terminal is growing and is expected to create 300 more high quality full-time jobs (they happen to be celebrating 10 years of success in September).
AltaGas has committed to investing half a billion dollars which will create 50 long-term jobs.
Prince Rupert’s mayor and council have secured provincial and federal investments to repave McBride, 2nd & 3rd Avenue, replace our 100 year old water system, construct 60 new affordable housing units, upgrade our airport, and open a new public marina.
Lax Kw’alaams has paved their road network and built a new school. Metlakatla, Kitkatla and Port Edward now have provincial funding to construct new affordable and seniors’ housing.
The social media based duel currently coming from their keyboards appears to be setting the tone for the campaign ahead.
Hopefully, the two candidates will be able to break away from their computers for a bit and engage in one, or preferably a number of public community debates in Prince Rupert and other areas of the North Coast Riding, something that could offer up some freedom from talking points.
So far the conversation has been focused on past events, or how they have been handled, making for what has mostly been an opening period of finger pointing.
Would be voters still don't have any indication as to what it is that either candidate might have to offer to improve the local economy, or how they would address the many social issues found in he North Coast riding.
What residents of the region might be hoping to see is how the discussion might move out of the realm of political rhetoric and more towards what ways both candidates would seek to change the current situation.
A public forum setting would offer the chance for residents to not only hear from both candidates as they expand on their positions, but also allow them to become active participants, raising the questions that are of major concern to them.
That kind of back and forth with the voters would also provide an opportunity for the two candidates to not only move away from their talking points, but to hear the concerns from those they seek to represent.
Hearing from the public is something that might offer a valuable bit of feedback and would give both Ms. Rice and Mr. Pond the opportunity to dig deeper into the issues and explain how they might best become advocates for the voters across the region.
You can find more items related to the 2017 election campaign from our North Coast Votes Archive page.