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REPORTING · 14th January 2011
Walter McFarlane
A Liberal representative will win the Skeena Constituency next election! That was the promise made in Thornhill, January 13, by Liberal Leadership Candidate Christy Clark during a noon hour luncheon at the Northern Motor Inn. Many City Councillors from Terrace and Former Terrace Mayor, Jack Talstra were present.

Chief Don Roberts from the Kitsumkalum band was present to welcome Clark to the Territory. He requested the province not forget about the region as it seems it is invisible.

She explained there were three reasons why she was running. “I spent those years in opposition, those five long dark years, the last half of NDP rule in British Columbia, trying to scare them out of office. And thank goodness, thanks to many of you in this room in 2001, we did get them out of office and of course, we spent the next four years in Victoria trying to clean up the mess that they made,” said Clark.

She expressed how the BC government had to make difficult decisions to put BC on the right track. She said she spent the last four and a half years listening to British Columbians through her radio show. “I know you feel like Terrace has been forgotten. I was in West Vancouver on the weekend, they feel forgotten too. I was in Fort Nelson, they feel forgotten too. You go to Sannich, I’ve been there, […] they feel forgotten too. It is amazing how disconnected British Columbians feel from their government and that is one of those feelings that has grown over the last years but boy I don’t think there is anything that hammered it home to people like the decision to force the HST on everybody,” said Clark.

She said the HST was a good economic policy, but people felt surprised by it and that disconnected the people from the government. She expressed rebuilding the trust and mending the bridges between the government and the people. She wanted to ensure cabinet ministers are able to do their job and MLA’s are able to listen to the people of their ridings.

“If you are not being represented by your MLA, who is going to speak for you in Victoria? You can’t have MLAs in Victoria with marching orders from the Premier; you have to send MLAs with the news and the hopes and the dreams of their communities. We need to give our MLAs permission to do that because that’s why they run for office and why would you bother voting if you didn’t think your MLA was going to speak on your behalf,” asked Clark.

The second reason was for families. Clark expressed a family first policy where government decisions are weighted on whether they are good or bad for families.

“Why do we want a thriving economy? A thriving economy supports families. It means families can go home and provide for their children. It means you can look after your aging parents or relatives,” said Clark. “And so families can stay in communities where they were raised and where they want to live for the rest of their lives and raise their own children.”

The third reason she gave is keep the NDP out of power. “You were here and you saw what they did to our economy. You saw how many jobs they chased out of our communities and you saw what happened to rural British Columbia when people pulled their tents and had to leave. When 50,000 people left communities like this one all across the Province because they couldn’t find work,” said Clark.

She said they could not have this happen to British Columbia again and they had to give British Columbians a ‘credible alternative.’ She said to be able to rebuild the government’s credibility; they would need someone who was not in the government when the government introduced the HST.

Referring to the NDP leaders who have entered the race for leadership of the party as “Cheech and Chong,” she stated she prays to God that Harry Lali will become leader of the NDP but she still expects the NDP to have a ‘credible leader.’

“I believe I have what it takes to lead you and this party into this Provincial Election. I believe I have what it takes to beat them and keep them in the opposition benches where they are safe, where our economy is safe from the things they would like to do with it. I really believe we have what it takes to restore some hope to the parts of the province that don’t feel like they’ve been listened too and I hope that you will support me in listening to that,” said Clark. “I really think I have what it takes to help you win and be able to return your economy, your community back to the kind of prosperity that you hope for and make sure your families will always, if they want to, stay where they belong.”

Clark then fielded questions from the audience. Talstra asked what she would do ensure the other Liberal MLAs to reconnect them with the province and remember that places like Kitimat and Terrace exist. She said she believes MLAs run to represent their communities but the culture in Victoria stops them from doing this.

She suggested the solution was to lead by example and encourage caucus members to speak up. She said the private members bills introduced by MLAs need to be passed more often as they have about a 0% chance of being passed. This would allow them to speak better on behalf of their communities. In addition, the premier needs to do a better job of communicating back and forth with the province. She also suggested a lot of MLAs were self centred.

“But of course, you’re going to have a BC Liberal MLA for this community after the next Provincial Election. So, all we have to be representing you in Victoria for a little while,” said Clark.

Ron Bartlett from Northern Native Broadcasting stated there is a large population of First Nations living in Northern BC and the Liberal Government has not made an effort to engage them continuously. He said he was not an NDP supporter adding the First Nations were not being engaged by the NDP at the moment, that their promises were hollow and they weren’t visiting the communities. He encouraged whoever would be running in this area to go out and engage them.

Clark suggested having a radio show where people could call in and speak to the premier. Bartlett said their sister radio station in the Yukon has that program every Friday while the opposition gets Wednesday.

The next question was on how to handle the HST. Clark replied she wished to address the problem the government created when they did not consult the province on the HST. She said the province should call back the legislature and get rid of it. However, she suggested support for the HST is growing. They could provide examples of businesses, which are thriving because of the HST, to explain why the tax is good for the province. She also promised to listen to people. However, if the HST failed, the British Columbian Government is going to need a Plan B.

“The HST was all about building productivity into the economy. We’re going to have to figure out how to build that productivity into the economy, we’re going to have figure out what we’re going to do about the 1.6 billion dollars which is going to be outstanding with the feds. We’re going to have to figure out how to transfer all the staff which no longer exists in the Provincial Government from the feds back to the Province and that’s just the beginning of some of the issues that are out there. So if the HST referendum fails, we’re going to have a hell of a mess on our hands,” said Clark.

She expressed people will be voting against the way the tax was implemented rather then the tax itself. She suggested producing honest information on what the tax means and how it works.

The economy was brought up next. Clark suggested decisions which affect communities need to be made in those communities. The people who make the decisions which affect local economies should be living in the communities so they could see the implications of their decisions for themselves. In addition, the amount of time it takes major projects to progress suggesting a board to track the projects progression and report back to the government.

Clark stated rural BC was the breadbasket of the Province and if rural BC is not working, the rest of the Province is not working. People were recommending having a referendum on the carbon tax and she said this would be a dangerous precedent because the Lower Mainland would set the tax policy in British Columbia.

She expressed her plans included the expansion of port facilities so the region could ship resources from BC to Asia stating Pat Bell had done a good job of opening markets in Asia. “25% of our annual allowable cut now goes to Asia, largely being driven by China. We need to open up markets for Beef, for Natural Gas, you name it. We need to be over there opening up those foreign markets because that’s what will drive our economy forward in the future and that’s going to be a really big priority for me should I become the premier.”

Roberts said the region was NDP and he is bothered by not getting anywhere with the MLA. He wondered if there will be a Liberal representative in the region so he does not feel like he is being stonewalled. He said he’s been accessing the government through Roger Harris. He added another problem is the Liberal party does not listen to the NDP. He offered to fly the Liberal Flag from the flagpole of his community out of anger of the NDP.

“I do think that we should recognize that all MLA’s need to play a roll in the legislature. Sometimes, the opposition party doesn’t make that very easy either, it’s not just the government, you have to have two to tangle and the new Democrat leaders have to allow their members to speak freely too. That’s always a part of the challenge that we have. I do think the government should be open to listening to concerns from other parties MLA’s. I do think that we have a responsibility as government to make sure that we are hearing from regions directly where we don’t have an MLA in our own party to speak for them,” said Clark.

She said she wanted people to be able to meet with their premier, cabinet ministers doing accountability sessions and listen to people and engage them. She said there were a lot of complicated issues.

“My view? Is that after the next provincial election, you will not be represented by a New Democrat, so I am going to are make sure there is a BC Liberal MLA from this community to represent this community in Victoria which is going to make my job a whole heck of a lot easier and means you will have someone to go to who can speak directly to the government about what’s going on in this community and who can deliver back to you just like Roger Harris did when he was there and Bill Belfey did when he was there,” said Clark.

“I’m going to do everything I possibly can, humanly possible to make sure that I help you elect a BC Liberal MLA up here because if the whole North goes NDP, you’re not going to be just unheard, British Columbia is going to have an NDP government meaning you’re not going to have an MLA to go speak to, you’re not going to have a government that cares either,” promised Clark.

We asked Clark if her stance on economic development included a method to keep industries in our communities. She replied it was a very complicated question. “A part of keeping businesses in a community is on pure economic policy. It’s making sure projects get to yes sooner, making sure you’ve got a good regulatory environment, good tax environment and make sure your opening up markets in Asia for our goods and our resources, that’s important. But a part of keeping jobs in a community and keeping employers in the community is all the amenities for families in the community. It’s about making sure the schools are functioning well, you have access to health care, making sure you have all those other amenities. I am a great believer in making sure we leave more resources in communities that are producing communities because rural British Columbia produces a vast majority of wealth in this province and more goes south then stays in the communities,” said Clark.

We clarified as by this logic, Kitimat should be booming. “It’s a complicated question. There is Eurocan and of course there’s Alcan. Lots of the resource businesses are dependant on forces that are outside government’s control but we can do our best to try and open up markets and we can do our best to open up facilities that will get our goods to market too so expanding our ports is a really important one. As a way to make sure that all our goods that are coming from British Columbia have a way to get out to the markets we want to open up. Government doesn’t do it all but government can have a big impact on it too,” said Clark.

Clark is considering coming to Kitimat on her next trip into the region. She is trying to visit as many communities in every region as she can.
Kitsumkalum Chief Don Roberts welcomes Christy Clark onto Tsimshian Territory
Kitsumkalum Chief Don Roberts welcomes Christy Clark onto Tsimshian Territory