Question #1: What is your top economic priority and why?
Michele Babchuk – BC NDP
Three major issues that will affect the economic future of the North Island are Forestry, Aquaculture and Connectivity. These issues will be a top priority for me.
Forestry has been at the heart of our North Island economy for generations. Families and communities depend on it. After 16 years of mismanagement under the old BC Liberal government that saw a loss of 300,000 forestry jobs, John Horgan recognized that it was essential to get the forestry industry back up and working for people in B.C. Local and value-added processing for our wood fibre has helped to get forestry workers back on the job. And we are doing so sustainably, so that the future of forestry is bright for our children and grandchildren. Even during the COVID crisis, we planted over 300 million seedling trees – three for every one harvested. We are tackling challenges years in the making and putting forest workers and communities first.
In 2018, a ground-breaking government-to-government process delivered recommendations that protect and restore wild salmon stocks, allow an orderly transition plan for open-pen finfish for the Broughton Archipelago and create a more sustainable future for local communities and workers. This process, which was widely hailed by industry, environmentalists and Indigenous communities as successful, can be replicated in the Discovery Islands, to ensure that this vital industry continues to contribute to the economic vitality of our region.
Lastly, the BC NDP Economic Recovery Plan has committed $90 million to support connectivity projects that will benefit rural, remote and Indigenous communities, so they can have the same online advantages that most people take for granted. High-speed internet opens the door to opportunities in regions seeking to diversify their economy. People can retrain or attend school from home. They can operate businesses that will be able to compete in the online marketplace. They can work from home or start an online business. Connectivity has the power to change lives and transform communities. And that is good news for people in the North Island.
Norm Facey – BC Liberals
My top economic priority is the forestry sector – ignored by our NDP MLA, taken for granted by the Minister of Forests, and too far from the legislature, or his Vancouver supporters, for John Horgan to worry about. The importance of the forestry industry on the North Island cannot be overstated, and I think it is important for people to know I understand it: my family has been working here, in forestry for generations.
My own career was in Costal Forestry. I have managed, with success, major forestry operations based in Campbell River, I understand the cost structure, the complex relationship between growing trees, tenure licensees, contractors, log traders, BC Timber Sales, sawmills, pulp logs, export markets – but what I care about is ensuring the forest benefits North Island families, supplying good jobs, making a meaningful contribution to the provincial coffers to provide services to all citizens, and that the work is safe, honest, and rewarding. Your government should be proud of the forestry sector, and I know I would be proud to be a loud voice in Victoria on behalf of the men and women working in all aspects of North Island Forestry.
Alex Morton – BC Greens
The top economic priority for the North Island has to be recovery from COVID. The current government is alive to the needs of British Columbians and is trying to support as many people as possible but the need is so great that this really does call for an all-hands-on-deck approach. I don’t know the details of what safety nets exist currently or how depleted they are but as a biologist, I do understand living systems, which our communities are.
COVID provided a jarring reality check. We learned that small businesses are the powerhouse behind job creation and our local economy because they keep their revenue local. Therefore, my emphasis through this pandemic and our recovery would be support for the smaller businesses including those in forestry, retail, tourism and food. Through consultation with local people, I would look for ways to cycle our economic activity through the layers of our communities so as to sustain each other. I would work with local gardeners and farmers to enhance food security by facilitating the establishment of small farms to establish a local food security network. The early months of COVID made us acutely aware of the fragility of our food supply lines. Our West Coast villages have been somewhat neglected. While the main highway got an expensive new passing lane, children are travelling to school on high-risk dirt roads.
There is a migration of people coming from the cities who realized over the past eight months that they want to move into smaller towns with their children. While we do not want to be trampled by them, they are a resource bringing a diversity of jobs from highly skilled to dog walking. Planning for their arrival is essential to our economy. We know that we are going to have to think outside the box to solve our housing crisis. BC Housing restrictions on contractors have to be re-examined so that houses are built properly but also so that local people can use wood from local mills and create homes that are an asset to our communities. Many want to look at creating tiny house villages for the homeless but also for people who cannot find a place to live in our towns and this is something that has to be explored in a public forum.
I see my role to ask, tap your wisdom and facilitate, not to assume that I know what you need and how you want it delivered. I am no stranger to controversy, I am sure none of this will be easy. We know that we are not going to do our part to reduce the impacts of climate change, protect wild salmon, or old-growth forests unless we become sustainable at the community level. I would meet with all the communities to find out what we can do to collectively help ourselves through this time and work to establish programs that could survive beyond this period of uncertainty.
John Twigg – BC Conservatives
My top economic priority is to deal better with the epidemic of drug addictions and resulting street crimes in North Island and all around B.C., which is badly damaging business climates, property values and government revenues. It could be solved with more policing and a better system of mental-health services in new hostels and tiny homes combined with security, counselling, skills training and job creation (e.g. broom-bashing and growing food gardens in the summer). That would be a key part of a broader strategy to grow the economy, especially by adopting an urgently-needed self-sufficiency strategy in food, banking (e.g. adding a made-in-B.C. paper and electronic currency) and in other policy areas, especially involving new viable jobs in public, private and volunteer sectors (e.g. environmental monitoring, aquaculture and food banks).