Friday, December 23, 2022

MLA Jennifer Rice includes evacuation concerns for community, as she raises Prince Rupert infrastructure challenges in letter to Federal government

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice has joined the chorus of those calling for assistance for the City of Prince Rupert and its ongoing challenges with infrastructure, the MLA addressing her letter late Thursday afternoon to the Federal Government's Minister of Transportation, Omar Alghabra.

The letter which the MLA has posted to her Social media stream,  opens with the MLA recounting the current water infrastructure challenges facing the City and notes of the ongoing State of Local Emergency facing Prince Rupert.

As you are now aware, the City of Prince Rupert (City) is under a local State of Emergency due to numerous recent water main and water service breaks. The Prince Rupert water distribution system is well past its useful life and poses a real risk to the city as well as Port operations in the immediate and in the longer term without renewal. 

The Province of B.C. has provided significant funding to the City for the replacement of the recently completed source water dam, the submarine water lines that deliver the water from the source on the mainland to Prince Rupert on Kaien Island, as well as towards a new water filtration system. 

The last remaining work in the water system upgrade is the total replacement of the water distribution infrastructure which is over 100 years old. This is an enormous undertaking at a significant cost that is untenable for a small community with a very limited tax base. 

The juxtaposition of our small city of 12,000 people with a regular operating budget of ~ $45M annually, providing services for a booming Port conducting over $60B dollars a year in global trade operations is not only ironic but unjustifiable. 

My community needs your help not only for sake of our citizens but for your National Trade corridor to sustain itself. 

I need not remind you of the significance of the fastest growing Port in North America and the remarkable role the Port of Prince Rupert played during the COVID-19 pandemic in maintaining supply chain integrity for our entire country.

The middle portion of her correspondence observes of sone recent funding for industrial infrastructure at the Trigon facility on Ridley Island, as well as to explore her thoughts towards issues related to the National Trade Corridor.  

As well Ms. Rice notes of other funding resources that she would like to see utilized, or in the case of the local Port Taxation issues, something to be addressed.

My understanding is that the City has discussed with you its critical infrastructure deficit, with specific attention raised to its failing water distribution system. 

The city and my office have been discussing these challenges for some time and I have been personally championing an infrastructure funding allocation to the city and this region through the Resource Benefits Alliance and the Province’s Northern Planning and Capital grant. 

My government has approved nearly every infrastructure grant application made by the municipality to aid in dealing with its aged infrastructure deficit. 

I have also personally been leading the Provincial dialogue regarding the Provincially legislated tax caps and Federally mandated PILT which don’t allow the city to collect much-needed revenues to reinvest in infrastructure replacement.

Ms. Rice also seems to have gone even further than Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond on framing the city's water infrastructure concerns, noting in somewhat of an alarming fashion as to how there could be a need for evacuation of the community, should the issues not be dealt with.

Of note this week to that theme, the City of Prince Rupert has issued three updates since the original declaration on Saturday, and not one seemed to indicate that an evacuation was anywhere on the horizon as a working topic. 

So it's inclusion in the MLA's letter makes for a rather startling declaration as her rhetorical device.

The City has demonstrated that immediate investment in the water distribution infrastructure is required as a failure would likely require the community to evacuate and completely shut down Port operations. 

A failure of this magnitude would jeopardize all of the Federal investment, the Federal reputation for the Canadian Port industry, and National revenues. 

In my role as MLA and as B.C.'s Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness I can appreciate and understand the severity of this situation. The Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness is working with the City on an Emergency Plan if the City’s water distribution system cavitates and the community is forced to evacuate. 

However, I must stress that this is not a solution. The solution is to protect your economic investment and financially support the City of Prince Rupert particularly with water infrastructure funding. 

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. 

I look forward to future dialog in how we can best work together in supporting the City of Prince Rupert.

In addition to the Federal Minister, the letter, which you can read here in full from the MLA's Social Media stream,  has a wide distribution list, featuring a  pair of Federal Cabinet Ministers, Premier David Eby and a range of Provincial Cabinet Ministers. 

Also finding the correspondence in an in box are Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach and City of Prince Rupert officials.

The correspondence also gained some helpful promotion from former Mayor Lee Brain and former Councillor Blair Mirau both of whom used their own social media streams on Thursday to relay her comments.

The MLAs approach in her correspondence is one which does seem to have taken from  a few of their talking points over their time in office, as well as through the recent Scrap the Tax Cap petition period, her letter offering the first tangible glimpse into what may be evolving as her official position to the topic.

The letter did not however indicate if the MLA has had any success in leading the dialogue with provincial officials on the issue that has been prominent for local officials, particularly during the recent the October municipal election campaign.

Not noted in the letter to the Federal Minister is any idea as to a dollar value for the financial support the MLA is expecting from the Federal Government; something she also did not make note of in her comments of Monday towards any provincial assistance following the State of Local Emergency Declaration of Monday.

While the correspondence does alert the Federal government and her fellow members of the BC NDP Government to the current situation in her constituency; the timing of its delivery, comes on the cusp of the Holiday season and with significant weather issues making for a provincial and nationwide narrative this week.

That would most likely mean that her letter will be awaiting  the return to duties for many Ministers and it won't be until after the holidays before we my hear of any response or plans for assistance.

The Federal Transport Minister, to whom the MLA has addressed the correspondence, himself is currently on a federal holiday mission.

When they do get to reading it, many on the receiving end may have some questions for the North Coast MLA, starting with a call for a look at her list of approved funding projects, which would indicate projects that the municipality decided were the priority for the community over those years of funding awards. 

They may also wonder perhaps if water infrastructure projects, perhaps should not have been more prominent in the application period over those last twenty years or so as the city crafted that list of  priority projects.

The recipients might also be looking to ask the MLA as to why there was not a little more interjection or guidance from the province during that period; that as successive municipal governments chose to kick the infrastructure can down the road as many times as it has been in the past.

All while the city's infrastructure seemingly became the ticking bomb that has now surely become the most pressing issue facing the community, an area of discussion that the MLA may have wanted to have made more prominent in the public forum aspects of her work in Victoria.

As the current situation continues to evolve, residents will surely be interested to hear of any replies to her correspondence and how a funding response from both Federal and Provincial, if any, will assist the City in its need to rebuild the city's failing systems.

Until then, we will all await more updates from the City, both to the immediate situation and hopefully larger pieces of information sharing in the future,  long after the current  State of Local Emergency  has been addressed and the declaration eventually lifted.

Towards that ongoing work of the City our archive of notes from the last week can be reviewed here.


  1. The city was paying bonuses to administration and now crying poverty. Something is not right here.

  2. And the port is paying millions in bonuses to executives while also claiming they deserve to pay less taxes.

    What's not right here is that Peter Lester allowed our city's infrastructure to decay so much during the boom times and didn't ever think about saving for when the bust would come.]

    What's not right here is that the feds continue to invest tens of millions in private industry who care about their bottom line, instead of to our community who actually hosts the industry.

  3. Great letter from Jen Rice! It's about time we got loud about the unfairness

  4. If I have this right everything is Pete Lester’s fault. Thank you for explaining this. It is 30 years since he was in office. Amazed that the mayors following him did nothing to correct his errors.

  5. The letter mentions that Province's contributions to the dam replacement and submarine water lines, totalling $6,948,408, but ignores that the Federal government contributed a total of $7,744,574 to those projects. But then, mentioning that would not fit with the narrative that feds contribute to port, but not to the community that hosts the port.

  6. I would like Jennifer to comment on the investment and rental of the CN Station. This doesn't seem to fit her narrative on infrastructure by the city.