Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen held a town hall meeting in Burns Lake on Feb. 28, 2016, to receive feedback from locals on how they would like to see federal funding on infrastructure spent.
A major part of the discussion during the meeting was safe and reliable transit, which included repairing roads but also investing in reliable passenger train service and improving walkability for pedestrians and safety for cyclists in town.
A village staff member described a recent public assessment the village had completed which found that one of the biggest concerns was the lack of walkability, as very few streets have sidewalks.
“I’ve had to literally jump out of the way (of a car) a couple times and people have turned around and come back, you know after all it is Burns Lake – and they apologize, they just didn’t see me, it’s not pedestrian friendly,” said a participant.
Communications was also brought up as a major issue facing the district as more and more government, health, educational, business and social services are being offered online and the northwest is limited by an outdated communications infrastructure.
“We have one high-speed Internet provider in town which is Telus and they will only provide high-speed Internet up to four kilometres away from their office on Ninth Avenue; otherwise you have to go with another provider and they can get quite pricy quickly.”
Reliable cellphone, landline and Internet infrastructure outside of the village was also discussed.
“Particularly south of Burns Lake – their wires are so old that people’s land lines are out for months; you have people on the Southside who if they need to call 911 they can’t,” said a participant.
Participants also wanted to discuss a recently completed project to install fiber optic cables to Pinkut Lake.
“This summer they spent millions of dollars running fiber optics up to Pinkut Lake, where there are no year-round residents; B.C. Hydro won’t even run power out there for anyone to use anything, and Fiber optics isn’t what we have around here – it’s the best of the best,” said a participant.
Cullen expanded on the issue, “Often the federal government will hire a contractor to come in service rural Internet provision, and even though I’m almost certain that rural Internet will be a part of the upcoming budget, what’s important is how you spend it – are you just going to hire someone out of Vancouver and are they just going to come in and start plunking wire down?”
One participant explained how the Lakes District has had trouble obtaining federal funding through grants.
“We have a huge infrastructure deficit and when the federal government releases money it’s very limited, we have a lot of challenges,” said the participant.
Another participant added, “A lot of federal grants are aimed at bigger municipalities, with major projects for highways and bridges and we don’t fit into any of those categories.”
Cullen concluded the meeting by describing how many small communities in the northwest often end up receiving less funding since most government funding for projects is shared between the three levels of government. He said that this ends up being quite restrictive for communities.
“Even just applying for grants, we don’t have the grant writer’s that Kelowna does,” said Cullen. “An entire staff pumping out grants while in communities like Burns Lake it has to be from off the side of the desk.”
Cullen referenced the federal Liberal government’s upcoming budget, due in less than a month, which is expected to focus heavily on infrastructure. Cullen explained how investment in infrastructure was a big part of the new government’s campaign, in response to a lagging Canadian economy and an ongoing infrastructure deficit that exists not only in the Skeena-Bulkley Valley region but also throughout Canada.
“It can seem a bit boring to talk about infrastructure, but it’s about what we want Burns Lake and our region to be and what kind of investments people think are most important,” said Cullen.