REPORTING · 8th July 2011
Premier Christy Clark and Pat Bell, the Minister of Innovation and job creation, were in Terrace on July 7th for a public Town Hall meeting at the sports-plex. The Banquet Hall was packed with people eager and ready to ask questions.
“This town hall is part of my commitment to open government and I’ve been doing town halls all across the province,” said Clark. “The idea is not just to tell you what we’re thinking or what I’m thinking or what Pat’s thinking, it’s about hearing from you what you would like us to do.”
She stated families were the most important thing in a person’s life, whether the family was youth, parents, grand children, grand parents, choice or however you define your family. Families raise children and pass on character and value, not government. Families are more effective when they work and have jobs and the value of families, and the value of jobs, are linked.
“And we also create a lot of revenue for government, for healthcare and education and all those things that really matter to us. Job creation is the absolute number one priority for government,” said Clark.
The first question pointed out the forest industry had become an export market and the industry had collapsed under the Liberal government due to appurtenance clauses. The questioner wanted to know how to prevent this new industry from failing.
Clark replied the Northwest would most likely be the back of forestry in the province with expansion of the exports of logs to China and the LNG pipeline. The exports to China are 1/3 of the exports in the province which is good because the US Economy has tanked, she stated.
She wanted to find more customers for BC wood as supply would meet with demand, the price will go up on BC Wood and it will be easier for BC Forestry companies to get a foothold in the markets creating jobs. She stated there were mining and energy opportunities opening up in the Northwest.
“This is a diverse economy in the Northwest,” said Clark. “A large part of it is just from the construction jobs that are associated with the projects that are coming online now are going to be in the thousands and thousands of jobs and I pretty much hope those jobs will be filled by the people who live and work already in the Northwest of British Columbia.”
Bell talked about his lumber coalition and how it was starting to reopen mills claiming it was the start of an economic boom the likes of which has not been seen since the 1960s. He listed the projects: the Northwest transmission line, Port of Prince Rupert, Kitimat LNG and mining opportunities such as the Red Chris Mine, which is ready to go.
The next question asked was about education and special needs children and how this area has more special needs children not being met by the educational facilities due to cut backs.
Clark said they were already reviewing the funding formula that the school district is recognising the children with special needs. She claimed the kids are categorized and money is attached to them based on their category. She continued with stating a basket of money is given to the school district and it up to them to determine how that money is spent. She added that it has been a decade since the funding formula was changed. Clark neglected to mention she was in charge of the funding formula at that time.
Gerald Amos from Kitamaat Village stated he grew up in Kitimat. “A lot of times, when our people express concerns about projects that we have concerns about, are still being accused of being opposed to development and nothing can be further from the truth, our people in Kitimat, and more generally, on the coast, as far as I’m concerned, made the forestry industry what it once was and the fishing industry what it was on the coast,” said Amos.
He pointed out Kitamaat village once produced 25% of the red cedar logs. They are not opposed to development but there are times when there are concerns about development. He stated he is concerned the coast will not survive an oil spill as the First Nations rely on the oceans and rivers and informed Clark that the Coastal First Nations have instituted a tanker ban. He asked if they are ready to honour and support that.
Clark agreed with the opportunities for Kitimat such as the thousands of jobs that will be involved in the Rio Tinto Alcan Smelter. She was going to visit the Smelter later that day. She said he was right to be concerned about Enbridge as there were legitimate concerns all across the province. She reminded him there was an environmental review panel collecting facts.
Councillor Randy Halyk, the only City Councillor from Kitimat who was present, wished her well and offered an invitation for her to meet with Kitimat City Council. He said there was some uncertainty on the Alcan Aluminum Smelter in town as it has been a long time coming and has stopped and started for decades. He also asked them to ask Alcan to allow small, new industries to use the Eurocan Wharf.
Clark promised to bring up his concerns. Bell said he spoke with Paul Henning about the wharf and Alcan will only need the wharf for a couple of years.
The next question concerned cabins at Lakelse Lake and how they were accessed by an abandoned logging road which recently was taken back. Clark said she did not have any idea what this was about but stated accessing the wilderness was a priority as the wilderness was the provinces greatest asset.
Bell said the Government has already gotten involved in this problem. He added people are coming to the province for skiing in the winter. In the summer, it is not clear what they are coming for but the data indicates they are coming here for the wilderness.
One woman wanted a card as legal proof she has a disability. Clark promised to look into it.
School Trustee and Chairman Berry Pankhurst pointed out the Funding Formula was done out of Victoria and the people who put it together do not live up here. He said they do not get enough money to cover special needs. He asked her to call a rural school conference to talk about issues such as aboriginal graduation and special needs. He wanted the students in the area to have the same advantages as in Vancouver.
Clark said education would assist in economic growth and changes needed to be made to the funding formula. Clark pointed out the Vancouver School District has 9000 empty spaces and was running a massive deficit. All places have different issues. She suggested more First Nations education from Kindergarten up.
Another speaker spoke about the resources and how they should belong to Terrace, questioning how a tree farm license could wind up in the hands of an off shore investor. He pointed out a majority of the trees being harvested were being shipped and the remainder was being destroyed, citing the clearing at the airport. He referred to the promises of bio fuel and bio coal.
Clark replied there were a lot of bio fuel projects starting up. The plan is not to export raw logs to China but to open the market for processed wood claiming the fastest growing middle class and urbanization is in China and India. They are building cities monthly and BC wants these to be built with our wood.
Bell said BC is now the largest producer of pellets. It is not happening as quickly as they want it to happen. They do not want to end raw log exports because a job in the mill is worth two in the bush and they do not want to put the people in the bush out of business. They are working to reopen mills but have to be careful when dealing with a big country because they would shut down 19 to 20 sawmills if BC was only going to produce lumber to be used internally. BC is an export based economy and we are living in a big world through partnerships. The work he claimed to have done in China meant 20 sawmills are operating which would not be operating otherwise.
One person asked about BC having the highest child poverty rate in BC and wanted to know what the government was going to do claiming most of the people involved in the government were the ones who were hurting the most vulnerable people in the province.
Clark replied the child poverty rate was way too high though she claimed it has been steadily declining since 2001 acknowledging BC is still the worst province in Canada. She said there was a lot of work to do. It was the creation of jobs over the last decade and improvement to the BC economy over the last decade which has contributed to this believing jobs and education would help fix the problem. She added homelessness in Vancouver had halved.
The final question was in regards to the raising cost of the ferry from Prince Rupert. Clark stated Blair Lekstrom was working on this as he was looking at affordability for families including Ferry, BC Hydro and ICBC Rates.