Terrace and Kitimat leaned hard on the three E’s during Premier Christy Clark’s town hall meeting – education, Enbridge and the economy.
More than 100 people came out to Clark’s two-hour town hall meeting at the Terrace sportsplex last Thursday, July 7, with Clark answering about a dozen questions on subjects ranging from the funding formula for education and resource exports to poverty and tourism.
Clark opened the town hall by saying her priority is families, which includes income and jobs.
“What we’re talking about….is how we can enable the creation of jobs in every region of the province, so that your kids can raise their kids in the community where you raised them,” she said.
“Keeping smaller communities intact, that’s what we’re about.
“Job creation is the absolute number one priority for our government,” Clark added.
The topic of local jobs was the first question thrown at the Premier, as the questioner pointed out that three major mills have closed down under the Liberal government.
“We’re seeing the bottom of a black hole right here, and it’s not getting any better,” he said.
Clark said her view wasn’t quite as bleak.
“I think that the northwest is going to be perhaps the fastest growing economic engine in the province that’s driving British Columbia’s economic health and, to a large extent, Canada’s,” she said, listing the LNG proposals and growing forest exports as some of the upcoming economic drivers.
Jobs, tourism and innovation minister Pat Bell was also at the meeting and he maintained the northwest is on the edge of an economic boom, with at least $16 billion of approved projects for the region.
“I think the next 10 years for the northwest will be unlike anything we’ve experienced,” he said. “What is important for all of us to capture in this room at this point is to get ready, to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Problems with funding formulas for schools and special needs support were also raised.
Coast Mountains school board chairman Barry Pankhurst suggested holding a conference for rural school districts north of Prince George to talk about issues involving First Nations graduation and special needs, among other topics.
“We just want our students to have the same opportunity that some student in Vancouver and Victoria has,” Pankhurst said.
Clark agreed with him that there were issues in the funding formula that need to be sorted out, and said a rural school summit was a good idea.
The topic of Enbridge Northern Gateway’s proposed pipeline running from Alberta to Kitimat was raised by Haisla Nation councillor Gerald Amos, who spoke of a tanker ban on the North Coast.
“Are you prepared to honour that and to support that, but as well as heed the advice and the concern of the 80 per cent of the British Columbians that are opposed and are concerned about this big project?” he said, to applause from the audience.
“With respect to the Gateway pipeline, the Enbridge proposal, I think you are right to be concerned,” Clark replied, saying she hears concerns about the project wherever she goes. “People have legitimate concerns about it.”
She pointed out the environmental review process is underway, which gives people a chance to make their views known and to see what the evidence says of the project’s impact on the environment.
“We’re watching the review process, we’ll watch as it unfolds, see what happens, see what…information they gather,” Clark said. “When we have all the information, I think we’ll be able to make, all of us…..a decision about whether or not this is the right way to go for British Columbia, based on the evidence before us.”
Thanking the premier for visiting the Northwest, Kitimat councillor Randy Halyk noted, “We have sent out a number of requests for you to come and visit us (Kitimat) as well, and I hope somewhere along the way you can do that,” he said. “We have a lot of questions and many things that you can answer for us.”
Halyk said one of the biggest concerns in Kitimat right now is whether or not the smelter will go or not, he said.
“Rio Tinto Alcan has stopped and started, stopped and started,” he said, adding, “Hopefully, with your meeting with them, you can convince them to get going.”
He also voiced concern about RTA buying the Eurocan dock, saying that the public had been hoping to use it for community and other business use.
Clark said she’d raise both issues when meeting with RTA officials later that day.
Bell said he has spoken to Paul Henning about RTA’s interest in the dock, and it’s for the short term.
“They’re very eager and willing to work with the community in terms of long term plans,” he said. “I’ve got lots of confidence that that’s going to be there for other investment purposes, and to make sure we help support the economy in the region as well.”
Clark was also taken to task about selling public resources to offshore companies, with the forest industry exporting logs to China instead of processing them here.
“We have to start bringing jobs home to this part of the country here,” said resident George Chinn, adding the area needs to get going on biofuel and biocoal opportunities.
“We have to get moving on biofuel,” she said, pointing out that the market for biofuel is huge in the United Kingdom.
The plan is also to open up partnerships in markets like India and China, she said, as those countries have the fastest urbanization in the world and need things like homes.
“We want them to build them with wood. And we want them to build them with our wood that’s milled here by our workers,” she said.