MLS REPORT: Politically-packed 2016
It is hard to believe that the year is drawing to a close. And even though we have not been sitting in the BC Legislature it has been a politically packed 2016, with the likely BC Liberal approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline providing a depressing finale.
If we had been in Victoria we would have been able to ask Christy Clark about why she would be willing to sell out our coast by accepting the decision on the pipeline. This, just weeks after the sinking of the tug on the North Coast and the environmental impact that is having on marine life. The positive aspect of Legislature not sitting when it was supposed to is I’ve been able to use the time to talk to constituents. I’ve been holding a series of community consultations to hear what people’s concerns are and how we can work together to deal with them. Top of mind for many remains access to the Internet, two tiered electricity pricing, ferries and education. Other perennial problems include care for our seniors in our communities as well as better access to health care.
In the bigger picture people rightly remain concerned about Christy Clark pushing ahead with the Site C dam, at a huge cost to our environment and our financial bottom line. And now, adding to our worries about the environment is the likelihood of her supporting the Kinder Morgan pipeline. We have long opposed it as too risky to our land and marine ecosystems.
I am leading a drive within the NDP’s rural caucus to put a business case together about broadband internet connectivity. This will be for both levels of government as well as the telecommunications corporations. It is an issue of equity and understanding that high quality, high-speed internet connectivity is now as fundamentally important as electricity in all our communities. I’ve heard from people who have failed exams because they timed out with the slow connection; from businesses that are thinking of leaving communities because they do not have adequate Internet and from people simply frustrated that we are being sidelined in any expansion plans.
People have also been coming forward at community meetings to talk about the two-tier electricity pricing which leaves many North Islanders living with energy poverty; having to choose between hydro, rent or food. I have submitted arguments against this policy to the BC Utilities Commission. While two tier pricing is designed to encourage people to conserve energy it needs to be done in tandem with a programme which enables people to retrofit their homes. Many homes in the North Island are older and not well insulated and there is no assistance available to help people improve them. Compounding the problem is that many communities in the North Island don’t have alternative sources of energy. In visiting our varied North Island communities I have had conversations with teachers, school trustees, and parents. All have welcomed the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada on education funding and see some hope for an improvement to the system as a whole. However, it is important to recognize that the starvation of education – which has left parents responsible for fundraising for basic school supplies – stems from decisions made by Christy Clark when she was Education Minister in 2002 and continued after she become Premier. Her actions have left a generation of students deprived of adequate investment in their education.
I continue my work as Opposition transportation critic, with a particular focus on BC Ferries as well as the $3.5 billion plan to replace the Massey Tunnel with a 10-lane bridge. In this latter case we see once again the BC Liberals are acting in their own interests. The local view, expressed to me by local politicians and other living in nearby communities, is that such massive investment would be better spent on improving transit to relieve congestion.
Locally, I have been urging action on a number of highways and roads – whether joining the Mayor and others to lobby the Ministry of Forests for improvements to the Zeballos Forest Service road or working with Tahsis to push for repairs to the Head Bay Road which is in equally poor condition. As winter encroaches and we see more washouts, snow and ice I will continue to loudly adovcate for maintenance and investment in all our roads.
My staff and I are holding an Open House in Campbell River on Dec. 19 from 3.30-5:30 p.m. at 908 Island Highway.