Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart (second from l) with members of the Steelhead caucus during their tour of the region in fall 2019. (Photo credit: Lori Pilon)

Steelhead caucus gave firsthand look at fisheries challenges

Fraser-Nicola MLA talks about Steelhead, seniors, health care, and more

Part two of an interview with Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart

The Steelhead caucus tour that Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart organized and co-chaired in 2019 was very successful, she says, allowing a number of BC Liberal MLAs to see at firsthand some of the fisheries challenges in our region.

The expansive three-day tour took in a number of sites, from the lower Fraser River to Merritt and Skeetchestn and on to Lillooet, where the group had a briefing about work at the Big Bar slide site.

“There are grave concerns about the long-term impact [of the slide] on fish runs,” says Tegart. “We’re hearing about lots of attention given to it while there was an emergency this past summer, but we have a limited window of opportunity.”

The group saw and heard about some of the issues affecting fish and their habitat, including garbage on the riversides, warming rivers, flooding, drought, and impediments to spawning, such as the damage at the Bonaparte River fishway near Ashcroft, which the group visited.

“We had an hour with David Walkem, former chief of Cook’s Ferry, and talked about the work being done [about the Steelhead]. There’s extreme concern about where they’re at. The Steelhead are an iconic fish here, and they’re in trouble. We need to think long-term about how to sustain them as a species.”

There was better news at Skeetchestn, where members of that Band did a food fishery on Kamloops Lake for the Bonaparte Band. Tegart explains that due to blockages, many area First Nations are not able to get fish.

“Skeetchestn had a good run, so they’re helping out other Bands. But they haven’t fished the Deadman River for 25 or more years, because they recognize the challenges in that watershed. They’ve bought a number of ranches at the head of the watershed to provide stewardship for the river.

“It’s very forward-thinking. So many people are working so hard to sustain fisheries, and we need to think long-term rather than just this year.”

She says that they heard from a great many people during the tour, who had many opinions about what should be done. “There’s a lot of concern about lots of people working independently to save salmon and Steelhead. Our sense is that sometimes fish get lost in politics. We’ll work very hard to have a joint approach based on what we heard from people on the river and the stewards of the land. We hope to put another tour together so the Steelhead caucus can continue in the spring.

“I’m amazed at some of the work being done, but we are looking at fish in crisis. Good work will continue to be a priority.”

While Clinton council recently took another step forward in the long process of seeing a seniors living facility built in that community, Tegart says she’s been extremely disappointed in the lack of any kind of action from the provincial government.

“We’ve had lots of assurances, but there’s nothing they can point to that they’ve done. We have a commitment in writing that the project will be shovel-ready for this spring, so we have to continue to follow up with them so they don’t forget us.

“We’re not letting up, and our expectation is that we will be breaking ground. If not, it will be heard loud and clear from the community that people are more than frustrated about the situation. What’s really sad is seniors having to leave the community when they’ve been part of the project. It continues, and we’re on top of it.”

January 2020 finally saw ride hailing companies Uber and Lyft able to start operating in the Lower Mainland, but Tegart says it’s not just a big city issue, and that ride hailing may provide opportunities, in small communities, for a way to provide transit to people who need it on an on-call basis.

“I think small communities need to be letting their voices heard around the fact that it’s not only a Metro Vancouver issue. We all need transportation, especially when we look at how limited transit is in rural B.C. People here can’t afford to move to urban centres.”

Tegart recently met with Interior Health CEO Susan Brown, and said that she’s trying to take health care out of politics and find out what our small communities’ expectations are and how to service those communities.

“I see some positive moves. Council is supportive of health care, and we have a hard-working community group working diligently to make our concerns known.”

She thinks the meeting with Brown was very positive. “She heard our concerns, and [IH] is working hard to address them. Interior Health has lots of land around the [Ashcroft] hospital, and I’d like to see more opportunities for health care and for seniors, and also look to some opportunities around what we’re seeing happening in health care in the area, like the Honour Ranch.”

Tegart says she doesn’t believe in the statement that no one wants to live in small communities: “We need to think big, and think about what we need to attract skilled people.” She also doesn’t believe that we get “lost” compared to the metropolitan areas.

“We need to get together, put things down on paper, and sell ‘us’. We have tons of opportunities, and I’m looking forward to 2020: to the Fraser Canyon [improvements], and how to ensure quality health care. I’m really concerned about forestry and quite concerned about small businesses and the taxes coming through from this government.

READ MORE: MLA working to see revitalization of Fraser Canyon highway

“People are thrilled that they don’t have to pay medical services plan premiums, but haven’t connected that municipalities have to pay the employer’s health tax. We’re not paying personally, but we’re paying extra costs through different avenues. We need to think about what that means to our communities and think about what a healthy community looks like.”

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