With the fate of the North Coast’s future hanging in the balance of the upcoming provincial election, Premier Christy Clark made a trip to Prince Rupert and Lax Kw’alaams last Wednesday.
In her first visit since 2013, the premier made stops to talk with city officials, the Coast Tsimshian Academy in Lax Kw’alaams, and the North Coast Convention Centre for a B.C. Liberals reception.
Her message to voters in the North Coast riding was a simple one: if growing the economy and creating jobs is important to you, vote for the B.C. Liberals.
In a traditional NDP stronghold that has gone orange since 2001, Premier Clark is counting on a sputtering jobs market, and the NDP’s decision to reject the Pacific NorthWest LNG project, among other large scale industrial projects in B.C. to regain the votes needed to place a Liberal MLA back in the riding and unseat current NDP MLA Jennifer Rice.
“I think people here are fed up with an MLA representing a party that says no to everything. If, heaven forbid, we had an NDP government in British Columbia, there would be no jobs for Prince Rupert and this region, because they’ve said no to LNG, they’ve said no to mining, they say no to Site C, they say no to almost every infrastructure project that’s proposed,” said Premier Clark.
“They’re a party of no, and if no is what you want for everything, that means no jobs, and I think that’s what people will be focused on in Prince Rupert this time.”
The premier pointed to projects like the paving of Tuck Inlet Road to Lax Kw’alaams and the AltaGas Propane Export Terminal on Ridley Island as encouraging signs that can provide stable employment for workers in the area.
In the past year, the B.C. government has announced or completed the Tuck Inlet Road paving, a Highway 16 Mile 28 level rail crossing removal, various funding boosts to First Nations training programs, funding boosts to the school district, specifically around trades training, 86 new affordable housing units in the region and the re-paving of McBride Street.
But much is still to be done and asked for from the province, one which Premier Clark says is understanding of the plight of Rupert’s speculation market, and wants to see infrastructure to support the coming industry sooner than later.
“We want to get started on that infrastructure, because it’s not just LNG … There are other products and other industrial jobs that we can attract to the area, but we need to lay the infrastructure and create space for them to operate. That’s part of it, for sure,” she said.
That would be music to city council’s ears, as mayor and council have repeatedly hammered home the need for the province to understand the rock and a hard place the city is up against with the need for affordable and seniors’ housing and its infrastructure deficit. But much in the way of transportation in between the network of First Nations villages, Digby Island and Prince Rupert has yet to be announced.
Premier Clark said that more affordable housing units are on the way for the region.
“Yes, those discussions are underway. I really need to offer my compliments to the mayor and council in Prince Rupert, who have been really dedicated to promoting – they have made sure everybody in Victoria understands the need for affordable housing here. It’s also a problem in Kitimat. Everywhere where we’re starting to see real interest in LNG, we’re starting to see a housing squeeze. So yes, there’s more to come,” she said.
Prince Rupert Middle School, Second Ice Arena
The premier said the province continues to negotiate with the school district on replacing Prince Rupert Middle School – a building over 50 years old, and whose boiler, electrical and heating systems are on their last legs.
“We can work on it, with the school district here. Obviously it needs to be the No. 1 thing on the school district’s list, and I think it is their No. 1 proposal, so we’re working on that for sure,” she said.
As well, with any help in developing a second ice arena in Prince Rupert, Premier Clark said the province is always willing to lend a hand, but that much of the support that comes in building a second ice arena comes from community support such as corporate sponsorships, which all starts with growing the economy.
“Fighting for ice time is not unique to Prince Rupert. I can tell you people in Burnaby and people in Chilliwack are all doing the same thing, which is great because people want to be physically active, so we’re happy to work on all proposals to try and improve the city,” she said.
“The single most important thing we can do to change people’s lives for the better is to create an economy where people are working, where we support job creation, where we help projects get to yes.”
The Promise of LNG
The premier said she recognized that one of her main campaign items from 2013 has yet to come to fruition for the province in the LNG industry. But she is determined to see it through, especially on the North Coast she said last week.
“We haven’t seen the huge number of jobs that we expect to see because the market for LNG [and] for natural gas has been so poor. But that’s going to happen. It’s going to come. We are absolutely determined,” she said.
“We want to make sure that we are preparing this community for the growth that’s going to come. And it’s going to come – I am absolutely determined. I have not devoted five and a half years of my life to making sure this happens, to give up now.”
The premier additionally raved about the potential of the port, stressing that nowhere else on the west coast of America does there exist the growth opportunities like Prince Rupert.
“There is nowhere else in North America that has this potential left … because of the access – you’re not going to a giant city like Vancouver, or even bigger, L.A., shippers really love it,” she said, adding that the number of value-added jobs like refineries and fish processing also boost Rupert’s prospects.
“There are a lot of very highly paid jobs at the port and on the waterfront and with fish processing. We can work to expand those other value-added industries as well.
Premier Clark also recommended to the LNG nay-sayers to look at the science behind the project and to recognize the deep understanding and reputation that the scientists have in approving the Pacific NorthWest LNG project with mitigation measures and various conditions.
“They are government employees but they are scientists with professional reputations who really regard this task seriously, so the science is there to support it if people care to look,” she said.
“I think there are always going to be some people who oppose change. I think that’s always the case … At some point we have to say, as a community, if most people think it’s the right thing to do and we’ve got the science to support it, we should move on with it.”
The Election Ahead
“B.C. really needs a fighter,” she said.
“This province needs somebody who’s going to fight for jobs here and protect our interests in the States and overseas. I think this election is going to be a pivotal moment for our province in deciding whether or not we want a direction that includes more jobs, or whether we want to join all the rest of the provinces and sink into unemployment and a shrinking economy. That’s really what’s at stake,” she said.