REPORTING · 14th January 2011
Mike De Jong, one of several hopefuls for the position of Premier was in Kitimat on Friday, January 7th as a part of his “Open Mike” tour and the Tsunami Restaurant was packed with people including Mayor Joanne Monaghan, Councillor Gerd Gottschling and Councillor Bob Corless.
De Jong introduced himself and explained his history, growing up on a farm, practicing law and then being elected as an MLA in 1994. He served in the opposition, became the Forest Minister in 2001, then the Labour Minister in 2005. He served as First Nations Relations Minister as well as Attorney General, Solicitor General and Government House Leader.
“The more important question is what are we going to do going forward? What are we going to do in Kitimat? What are we going to do in the Northwest? What are we going to do in British Columbia?” asked De Jong.
“The premier needs to be the person who goes elsewhere in the country, in the continent and elsewhere in the world and says ‘We have the products that you guys need, we do it better than anywhere else, we have the people and we have the services. We got what you want.’ The premier also has to be the top sales person for attracting investment into every part of British Columbia,” said De Jong.
He added these were important because there are other things which people expected of their Government: Education, health care, public safety, public services. He did not think they have to find the money for the services; they have to generate it by creating jobs so the workers could contribute the taxes for these programs. He expressed he was raised on a principle of not spending more than what was earned.
Another thing he has suggested, which apparently he was not supposed to mention, was the decline in the party’s popularity since the introduction of the HST.
“We made some decisions and we executed those decisions very badly. But more importantly than that, there are people in this room,” he said singling out Mayor Monaghan and the other City Councillors, “In government, the currency that we deal in is trust. If you lose the trust of people, it doesn’t matter what you try. It won’t matter how genuine that the effort is, the old trust-o-metre moved awfully close to ‘E’ we need to push it back to ‘F’.”
He said communities needed two ingredients for an economic future; education and economic opportunities. He said they could earn back trust by revealing just how much money MLA’s were taking. He opened the mic to the floor at this point to ask how Kitimat and the Provincial Government could work together to create a future.
Councillor Gerd Gottschling was the first who had something to say. “I am really, really disappointed. You say you want our trust. You want to establish that. You say you want jobs. You say you’ve been in cabinet for a long time, but you saw the decimation of this community with Methanex leaving, Eurocan shutting down, and it was a viable operation. You were there when the decision was made to continue power sales rather than having a viable aluminum industry in this community. We are hurting and we are hurting badly and you come here and ask for a job and where were you when these decisions were made in cabinet; when Kitimat was made almost a desolate town? We need jobs for young people, we need to keep the health service you were talking about, we need to keep our roads and we need to keep the infrastructure for this community. I want to know where were you when the Premier, and you were part of this cabinet, that affected us to this position. I am outraged and I am here to share with you that when the next Premier becomes interested in a community like us who has a lot to give, we have a lot to give, but we need government to work with us, not against us,” said Gottschling.
“I’m going to pledge to be brutally honest with you, you have to do the same with me,” said De Jong. “You know where I was. You know exactly where I was. I was the Forest Minister; let’s not BS one another. You know where I was, I was the Forest Minister. We changed a policy that had been in place since the 1950’s to address the fact that the industry. The forest industry world wide had changed dramatically. You know what folks? We could ignore that fact and we wouldn’t be doing anyone any favours. There was a time when we supplied the better part of the world’s softwood lumber supply. We don’t do that anymore, although we are still a major supplier. If you watched the way the industry changed, there was something else we did in 2003, by the way, I started a market initiative in China. Today China is our second most important market and has eclipsed in the last year, even Japan. You know what I’d like to do now? I’d like to expand that. Do you know where our next logical market is for wood products? India, India! So we can pretend that we are an enclave of 4 million people who can wall ourselves off from the rest of the world and the fact that competition has arisen in lumber products from Scandinavia, from Russia, or... or… we can decide how we are going to reconfigure ourselves and aggressively market the products we have but if we don’t create the opportunity, no one will do it for us. Where was I, I was the Forest Minister,” exclaimed De Jong.
“Mike, I know that and that’s why I’m saying today, we have 575 less jobs in Kitimat. Because, somewhere, you saw the bigger picture and we’re saying the small picture is also important. That picture is right here. We’re suffering for it, people are suffering for it and I just wanna share that,” said Gottschling.
De Jong asked Gottschling what he would do if he were Premier for a day, what would he do for Kitimat? Gottschling replied it would be an open door relationship with the community so they could communicate issues that are affecting the community. De Jong asked him what the best opportunity was, which the provincial government should work with Kitimat to develop. Gottschling replied: The Kitimat Modernization Project.
“Make sure that there is not just talk; make sure there is actual action. We will see a modern smelter here so we can get stability back. This is the only industry in Canada, in British Columbia that manufactures resources from outside of the country,” said Gottschling.
De Jong said that was helpful.
Councillor Gerd Gottschling pointed out it was De Jong who implemented the forest policies which removed the requirement to process lumber in the region the trees were harvested.