Terrace and Kitimat leaned hard on the three E’s during Premier Christy Clark’s town hall meeting – education, Enbridge and the economy.
At least 100 people came out for Clark’s two-hour town hall meeting at the Terrace sportsplex July 7, with Clark answering about a dozen questions that touched on jobs, the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project, road access for cottagers, disability ID cards, funding formula for education, resource exports, poverty, tourism, and the track at Skeena Junior Secondary.
Clark opened the town hall by saying her priorities are families, which includes income and jobs.
“What we’re talking about….is how we can enable the creation of jobs in every region of the province, so that your kids can raise their kids in the community where you raised them,” she said. “Keeping smaller communities intact, that’s what we’re about.”
“Job creation is the absolute number one priority for our government,” Clark added.
The topic of local jobs was the first question thrown at the Premier, as the questioner pointed out that three major mills have closed down under the Liberal government.
“We’re seeing the bottom of a black hole right here, and it’s not getting any better,” he said.
Clark said her view wasn’t quite as bleak.
“I think that the northwest is going to be perhaps the fastest growing economic engine in the province that’s driving British Columbia’s economic health, and to a large extent, Canada’s,” she said, listing the LNG line and growing forest exports as some of the upcoming economic drivers.
Jobs, tourism and innovation minister Pat Bell, who also attended the town hall meeting yesterday, said the northwest is on the edge of an economic boom, with at least $16 billion of approved projects for the region.
“I think the next 10 years for the northwest will be unlike anything we’ve experienced,” he said. “What is important for all of us to capture in this room at this point is to get ready, to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Clark was later taken to task about selling public resources to offshore companies, with the forest industry exporting resources to China instead of processing it here.
“We have to start bringing jobs home to this part of the country here,” said resident George Chinn, saying that the area needs to get going on biofuel and biocoal opportunities.
“We have to get moving on biofuel,” she said, pointing out that the market for biofuel is huge in the United Kingdom.
The plan is also to open up partnerships in markets like India and China, she said, as those countries have the fastest urbanization in the world and need things like homes.
“We want them to build them with wood. And we want them to build them with our wood, that’s milled here by our workers,” she said.
Problems with funding formulas for schools, teacher rights and special needs support were lobbied to the former education minister.
Coast Mountains school board chair Barry Pankhurst suggested holding a conference for rural school districts north of Prince George to talk about issues involving First Nations graduation and special needs, among other topics.
“We just want our students to have the same opportunity that some student in Vancouver and Victoria has,” Pankhurst said.
Northwest Community College president Dr. Denise Henning said she had deep concerns regarding education and the funding formula.
“How are we going to increase the funding? How are we going to provide education?” she asked.
Clark agreed with Pankhurst that there were issues in the funding formula that need to be sorted out, and said a rural school summit was a good idea. Responding to Henning, she said that colleges will be an important part of the community in the coming years as the economic boom gets underway, saying that they’re thinking specifically about regional training programs.
The topic of Enbridge Northern Gateway’s proposed pipeline running from Alberta to Kitimat was raised by Haisla member Gerald Amos, who spoke of a tanker ban on the North Coast.
“Are you prepared to honour that and to support that, but as well as heed the advice and the concern of the 80 per cent of the British Columbians that are opposed and are concerned about this big project?” he said, to applause from the audience.
“With respect to the Gateway pipeline, the Enbridge proposal, I think you are right to be concerned,” Clark said, saying she hears concerns about the project wherever she goes. “People have legitimate concerns about it.”
She pointed out that the environmental review process is underway, which gives people a chance to make their views known and the chance to see what the evidence says of the project’s impact on the environment.
“We’re watching the review process, we’ll watch as it unfolds, see what happens, see what…information they gather,” Clark said. “Then when we have all the information, I think we’ll be able to make, all of us…..a decision about whether or not this is the right way to go for British Columbia, based on the evidence before us.”
Prior to being elected to office, the Premier committed to holding town hall meetings in communities throughout the province, saying it’s a way for the her to hear from the public.
Clark toured Rio Tinto Alcan Thursday and is touring Pacific BioEnergy’s reopened mill in Kitwanga and meeting with Smithers’ Chamber of Commerce today.