Full Christy Clark interview transcript from Nov. 23.
Interviewers are Chris Gareau (CG) of The Interior News and Tyson Fedor (TF) of CFTK.
CG: Am I getting an ICBC rate hike?
Premier Clark (PC): Well, ICBC is speculating – has been asked to specualte about – all the range. So who knows, you may get a rate cut based on what they’ve proposed. So there scenarios are based on – it all depends on a whole bunch of inputs, right? How many accidents there are, what are interest rates tomorrow – so it’s a very speculative business. But I’ve said to ICBC look, we’ve set out a maximum increase of 4.5 per cent, that’s what we set out, and we want you to come in at that or under it, preferably under that so that your increase is as small as possible.
TF: The Village of Telkwa, their mayor has called the ICBC rates that they currently have a human rights issue, having it be higher than Smithers because of the divide that ICBC has and they’ve been lumped in with Prince George. Wouldn’t it make sense for ICBC to lump Telkwa in with the Smithers region and the Northwest region instead of Prince George?
PC: I don’t know the answer to that question. I think ICBC rates are obviously really sensitive for everybody because we all pay them, and for northerners it’s always a bigger hit because you’re just more likely to get gravel on your windshield, you’re more likely to drive a truck which is a higher – I mean there’s a whole bunch of things that make insurance more expensive here. You’re more likely to have to use a truck for work. So we need to be conscious of all that. I don’t know the specific answer to that question but I could get it for you.
CG: Hawkair just declared bankruptcy, they pulled out of Smithers over a year ago. They’re blaming the state of the regional economy. With LNG terminals and pipelines yet to be built in the Northwest, how can the Province help the economy in this region?
PC: We can get on with LNG. We can get on with mining projects, with LNG projects, we can get on with supporting forestry in the region. I mean, one of the things that we need up here is we need economic projects, and that means resource development. We have to do it in an environmentally sound way; in a way that respects the future for our children. But we need to get on with those projects because those will be thousands of jobs. And you know, when people say we should just – and some of them will probably be coming to say hi to me today – we should quit with LNG, we should quit with mining, we should quit with forestry, that means ultimately other companies – car dealerships, real estate operations, restaurants, airlines – really start to struggle, because if people don’t have a job and they don’t have money to look after the people that they love, they don’t have money to spend at local businesses. And this whole community and all the communities in the Bulkley Valley depend on these resource projects going ahead. I think about that every single day: how important a job is for people who live here.
CG: Speaking of that, the environmentalists did tell me they’ll be there, and there’s also First Nations anti-pipeline camps, they’re also going to be there. How is your government reaching out to these groups and the public to answer their concerns?
PC: We are always working with First Nations and we have for the last five years on LNG projects. We’ve reached a remarkable level of consensus in First Nations communities and building pipeline benefits agreements, in revenue sharing agreements, employment agreements that we’ve done, up and down the coast and all across the North from the northeast to the northwest. It hasn’t been 100 per cent of people but it’s certainly been a big majority of First Nations communities are supporting it. I’m here with Wanda Good, she’s a deputy chief, she’s one of the most enthusiastic supporters of LNG you’ll find anywhere in the Bulkley Valley. Same is true with Ellis Ross in the Hiasla community, Joe Bevan in Kitselas. You know, the First Nations, what we are seeing is First Nations leaders and community members all across the province who have recognized that in order for them to build the kind of communities and the future they want for their own kids, they need to find a way to help support resource development and make sure that they get their fair share of that revenue, and that’s what we’re trying to do with LNG.
TF: You were in Kitimat earlier today and I understand you mostly took Highway 37 South there. We’ve seen the improvements that your government has made to highway, including Highway 16 with the recent funding announcements there. Something that’s got a lot of talk, there was a fatal accident Aug. 30 of this year that killed a local teacher in Terrace. Due to that, there was pooling on that highway, and we’ve seen the electronic signs up basically warning drivers that there is pooling on that highway. Does your government currently have a plan for Highway 37 South when LNG does eventually come in to potentially make that road a little safer because that highway is going to have much more traffic when LNG does come.
PC: I am really concerned about making sure that your communities are ready for when LNG comes. Now, LNG has come a little slower than we’d all hoped because the market’s been so bad for natural gas globally, which is something we can’t control, but it is going to come. So that means making sure that you have the health care services, that you have the housing you need, and that your roads are in good shape – your roads, ports and airports. So everywhere from Prince Rupert to Terrace to Kitimat to Smithers, we’re working with the communities to build that plan to make sure that you are ready.
TF: Would that highway see improvements in the next two years when LNG comes?
PC: Well I don’t know it will be in the next two years, but certainly the Transport Minister is thinking about how we can improve the highway. I’ll have more information for you in the next few months.
TF: You mentioned health care. That’s another topic you probably expect this question, but Mill Memorial, what can you give us on an update on that if there is one?
PC: There is – so these things are incremental, they change incrementally. So here’s the latest news: the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health both toured the hospital. Wanda has been a huge advocate for making sure we get that hospital into better condition and working shape. And so what we’ve done is the regional health district has agreed to put together the business case for what they’d like to see, how they’d like to see the hospital rebuilt and how they’d like to see it changed, and they’re going to be sitting down with the Health Ministry first thing in January and start to narrow that business case down. So that discussion has begun, so we’ll see what happens with it. It’s a long process but I think people know that our government, when we decide to spend $100 million or so, we are careful about making sure we do it right, that we do it with the best interest of taxpayers in mind, so we’re going to have to go through a bit of a process to see if we can get there on it. But I certainly know, I’ve heard from all the mayors in the region, all the First Nations leaders in the region, these communities want to see the hospital upgraded.
TF: The city has formally invited you. They voted on a motion last month to formally invite you to tour the hospital yourself. You mentioned the ministers have gone too; is that something you’d be interested in if that invite does come through?
PC: Absolutely. My time is always short when I’m here but I’d sure love to go see the hospital. I have visited it before though, in the past. So, I look forward to going back. But let’s – moving this business case is the first step. It’s a first step on what sometimes is a longer journey, but you don’t start the journey unless you take that first step. So I’m pleased about this news as a beginning for it. But I do know that people are really concerned here about making sure that health care here is ready. I will say though about these communities, when LNG gets going it’s going to mean a lot of change – positive change I hope – for these communities. We want these communities to be ready, but it sure is a lot easier to make sure we are looking after people all over the province, that we’re sharing the benefits, when there are more benefits to share. It makes it a lot easier to make decisions about all the things that people need when we are producing more revenue, and that’s why I’m so focused on economic growth, because when we grow the economy, we have more money to share. And we need to make sure those benefits are felt by everybody, no matter where you live, no matter where you come from in B.C.
CG: I wanted to touch on LNG again because you had brought it up. I spoke with Minister Rustad about getting First Nations support, and while he said the Province is working with Gitxsan hereditary chiefs and is open to working with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, most of the effort is with elected bands. Are you worried about the legal challenges with that, and can pipelines, terminals be built with camps built to stop them?
PC: Yeah, I think – my preference is to find agreement and we’ve been working really hard on that. Day by day, we’ve been doing it for five years almost, and it’s been a long, very thoughtful engagement that we’ve had with First Nations, but it hasn’t been overnight. We’ve got a little time left to work through the remaining opposition to this in First Nations communities and I hope we can do that because it’s always better to be able to make change when everybody’s behind that change. I think one of the first things First Nations communities – many of whom were initially opposed that have come on to support this have seen – that there’s just tremendous benefits for the people that they represent. I mean, Wanda’s certainly seen that in her community: employment benefits, revenue benefits, revenue sharing. Those are really meaningful ways to change communities.
CG: Sure, but even Minister Rustad said that you’re not going to get everybody on board. It seems like these protest camps are there to stay. What is the Province going to do about that?
PC: Well, I don’t know if they are. I don’t know if I agree with your contention on that, but we’ll see. We’re going to keep working through it, I’m an optimist. Everybody said we wouldn’t have gotten as far on LNG, and we’ve already got the go ahead on our first plant. So they’re already starting to move dirt, or they will be in January to get the first LNG plant going down in Squamish. So I think we might surprise people with what we can achieve.
TF: I wanted to ask about fentanyl. The … Alberta government regulated basically machine presses out there for the drug that has basically killed a lot of people in the province. There was a young man who overdosed on fentanyl just last month here in Smithers. What is your message to his family who is trying to bring more awareness to this drug that is really affecting a lot of people in this community, and what is this government doing to potentially combat that issue?
PC: What I would say to that family is that everyone in the province grieves with them. We are all parents – or so many of us are parents ourselves – and we think, we see these drugs out there that are contaminated with this deadly toxin that’s being peddled by drug dealers. People don’t know what they’re getting; they die unexpectedly, and we all look at that and all say ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ That would be the first thing. The second thing is we’ve declared a public health emergency: we’ve put $10 million into a centre for excellence to study, to really help us understand opioid and substance abuse. We’ve put $1 million into a joint task force between law enforcement and health, and we’re working to build better health supports for people who are addicted to opioids. And I have just done a mission to Ottawa with three women who have lost their loved ones to opioid overdoses. And what we’ve said to them is we need adequate RCMP on the ground on drug enforcement. It’s a federal responsibility and we are short by one-third the officers that we need. We need a national law to ban pill presses, because provinces doing it on our own doesn’t do any good because we don’t control the borders. And we need the federal government to conclude a treaty with China just as the Americans have done, that will stem the flow of that drug from that country into our ports. This is a problem right now in British Columbia, it’s a huge problem for us: almost 700 people, almost all of them kids, are dead. And it’s going to find its way right across the country at massive damage, to thousands of people, and every one of those deaths is absolutely preventable. We’re going to keep working toward saving every single one of those lives before they’re lost.
TF: Would you consider those regulations that Alberta has?
PC: Yes, if Ottawa doesn’t do it, we will get it done. We are already preparing that legislation. But we know that when provinces do it, we’ve seen it in Alberta, it’s almost symbolic. The real job can only be done by the federal government. So we will do it if they don’t, and it may make a small difference, but really the federal government has to do it nationally because they control the borders and they control the drug enforcement in this province and others. So we need them to do this for every Canadian.
Editor’s note: The day after this interview, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security revealed that they agreed to work together to help slow the flow of illicit drugs into Canada. The two governments now have a memorandum of understanding in place to coordinate policing to crack down on illicit fentanyl and other opioids.
From Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 622 British Columbians died of illicit drug overdoses, with fentanyl being detected in 332 of those cases.
There were 397 illicit drug deaths in the first 10 months of 2015. The number of fentanyl deaths tripled compared to the first 10 months last year.