NEWS RELEASE · 9th February 2011
The first NDP hopeful for leadership of the party was in Kitimat on Wednesday, February 2nd at the Canadian Auto Worker Hall.
MLA Robin Austin introduced Mike Farnsworth who has been the House Leader for the last 5 years. Farnsworth said Austin was doing a good job representing this riding in Victoria and bringing concerns to the Caucus and the House.
Farnsworth stated the NDP needed to go from being Opposition to being the leading party. He spoke to his background in City Council. He claimed the reason why the NDP left power in the 90's was because they had lost touch with the people of British Columbia.
“I think one of the lessons I’ve learned over my time in politics and one of the lessons I feel very strongly about is that government has to work with people. It has to work with communities. It has to get away from what is seen in this province, which is a top down approach driven out of the Premier’s Office which doesn’t listen to either caucus and views people who have differing opinions as opponents to be pushed aside. The result being that we have public policy in this province which really doesn’t reflect the needs of the people of British Columbia,” said Farnsworth.
He said he is a firm believer in individual political parties. He stated the government does not have all the answers and the answers are in the communities in the province. He also pointed out the Fair Trade program, which had been discussed by the Mayor of Dawson Creek as a beneficial program to his community at the Enbridge forum in Terrace the previous night, was a program Farnsworth had introduced.
He said he would lead the party and not surrender on issues of health care, education, economics and other issues which matter to British Columbians. He said he wanted to hear the questions from the people who were assembled rather than say: ‘We know best.’
Councillor Gerd Gottschling was the first to speak. He stated Kitimat contributed 12% of the GDP of BC prior to the Liberals taking power. Now, the population has dropped to 8000 and Kitimat has the highest vacancy rate. Gottschling stated the closure of Methanex cost 100 jobs, the de-linking of the tree farm licenses cost another 500 jobs at Eurocan and the Aluminium industry was slowly being dismantled.
“We are promised Modernization, for the last 50 years, we’ve been promised Modernization, and it hasn’t happened. This is due to the lucrative power sales give away and de-links of the precious water resource from the aluminium production,” said Gottschling.
He said there has been a reduction of 1000 hourly workers and the Council is seeing a disappearing tax base. He suggested Council will have difficulty upholding the infrastructure in future budgets. He asked what Farnsworth would do to ensure Rio Tinto goes through on the promises and what he will do to bring jobs and prosperity to Kitimat.
Farnsworth replied there were a number of answers. He stated Aluminium production was the purpose behind the agreement. He did not have any ideas on what to do, but there were ideas out there to ensure BC gets the best value out of the water, producing aluminium rather than developing power for market.
He pointed out the Province of Quebec made it clear: “’If you want our water, then we want jobs and the jobs are in aluminium production, they are not in sending energy sales.’ I think we have to look at ways where we can adjust the regulation around the cost of power. I don’t know anywhere else where you can make an 850% return and it’s not heavily regulated. No other industry gets to do that.”
On forestry, Farnsworth said the logs should be processed here in BC rather than shipped out raw. He said in the 80s and 90s up to today, there have been trade missions to Asia where the traders wish to have Asians building houses like the people in BC do. However, they build the way they want to, so we should cut our wood to the specifications of the Asian market. He stated other provinces were more aggressive in marketing their forestry products.
He later said they need to go back and take another look at policies. He believes the trees cut should be milled locally. “We need to go back to having public policy which is made in the public interest and not in the interests of a few who decide what’s best for them,” said Farnsworth.
Councillor Randy Halyk was also present. He asked Farnsworth to stand up for BC. He said the people down south are talking about changing to a different government. Halyk also asked about the regionalization of Health Care.
Reid Nelson asked where he stood on education. Farnsworth said they had to deal with the underfunding in the province. He said the cuts were having an effect and they had to deal with class size and composition. He said school closures need to be addressed. He said they need to have a royal review of education, including adult and post secondary education.
He pointed out things have changed in the last 30 years and people were unable to make careers out of jobs anymore. People who were 50 with families to support lost their jobs without retirement, and were unable to get retraining for new jobs.
Nelson commented this had been the best answer to this question he has heard so far.
Other questions for Farnsworth included what he would do to reverse the gutting of BC Hydro, the disillusionment of voters and keeping corporations from destroying the legal system. Farnsworth also discussed the divide between Urban and Rural British Columbia, the potential for an upcoming election depending on who gets in, and how BC needs to get back to tying economic measures to creating jobs and investment rather than tying them to blind faith.
Farnsworth and Austin also attended the Enbridge Forum in Terrace the previous night with MLA's Gary Coons and Doug Donaldson