Four Nechako Lakes candidates running in the May 14 provincial election shared their platforms and answered questions from local public at the all-candidates meeting in Houston April 30.
Nechako Lakes candidates John Rustad (B.C. Liberal), Dan Brooks (B.C. Conservative), Sussanne Skidmore-Hewlett (B.C. NDP), and Colin Hamm (Green Party of B.C.) faced questions from the crowd of about 60 local people.
One question, asked by Houston Councillor Rick Lundrigan to NDP candidate Skidmore-Hewlett, was “What are the Houston-specific issues and how will you help us resolve those issues?”
Skidmore-Hewlett said the main Houston issues are lack of health care, lack of seniors care and a lack of available skills training.
She says issues differ in each community and she is dedicated to working with Houston people to address issues.
“I think it’s the MLA’s responsibility to work with communities, elected people and residents and voters in the constituency to address those issues as they come up and help them address those issues in Victoria,” she said.
Conservative Dan Brooks says two Houston issues are skills shortages and services, adding that B.C. Conservatives can pledge money to deal with skill shortages.
“What I’m going to do as your MLA is go into the high schools and elementary schools and talk to the kids about looking for jobs in the trades,” he said, adding that most students have a glamorous idea of going to university, but many times they get degrees that have no relevant job skills.
Liberal John Rustad said one Houston issue is an upcoming capital project, the water-storage facility replacement.
“But the one issue I hear most about is that there’s been more people moving into town that need social assistance,” said Rustad, adding that we need to bring social assistance offices from Smithers to Houston.
“I’ve been working with various ministers to figure out how we can adjust that,” said Rustad, adding that he thinks it’s important for the future of the community.
One question, asked of Conservative candidate Dan Brooks, was “What is your policy on investing in our midterm timber supply?”
Brooks says the only way to get anywhere with any resource development is to engage in community land-use management and establish clear expectations on issues like midterm timber.
“It needs to be driven by communities and not by industry, so our communities need to make a decision on what we want to do about midterm timber supply,” said Brooks.
“I have an initiative that I want each community to engage in comprehensive land-use planning that’s going to set those expectations,” he said.
Liberal candidate John Rustad said that to keep mills open, they have to make sure they have access to fibre.
“We have land resource management plans in place here in the Morice timber supply area,” said Rustad.
Rustad noted that the NDP platform has no mention of bioenergy and how they can use those standards to access timber.
“Forestry is 43 percent of our economic activity,” said Rustad. “It’s critical that we make sure that we have a healthy industry for the future.”
Rustad says B.C. Liberals are looking to expand the timber supply by looking at a new manager model of the land base.
Rustad says Duncan Lumber is a great example, because after taking out all their dead pine, they got a 25 to 30 percent increase in the amount of fibre available.
“It’s those types of solutions we need to be thinking about if we want to make sure that we’ve got enough fibre available to supply our mills,” he said.
Conservative candidate Brooks says B.C. Liberals have done nothing with land use planning, have ignored and minimized land resource divisions, and had ten years to deal with the mountain pine beetle, doing nothing until last year.
“Yes, we have a crisis in mid-term timber… we are going to have to cut back on how much we cut and look at industries like bioenergy and tourism,” Brooks said.
“Land-use planning is how we are going to decide where we are going to set those boundaries, because if you diversify in tourism, you may have to make sacrifices somewhere else on your land base,” he said.
“Communities need to make that decision, not government,” he added.
NDP candidate Skidmore-Hewlett said B.C. NDP has a five-point plan and one of the big priorities is looking at different ways to use our timber supply, looking at different resources and better ways to use trees.
Another priority is working with rural communities and coming up with plans that work for them, she said.
“We’re committed to doing that,” she said.
Green Colin Hamm says the B.C. Green Party has a plan to deal with the mid-term gap, to do more value-added (more with the same cut), and have smaller management units so they can know forests more and manage better.
Hamm says they also want to increase access to salvage licenses.
“There is thousands of tons of good fibre out there that’s not being used… we want to open that up to go back in,” he said.
One person asked Liberal candidate Rustad, “Can you commit to funding a full-time duty nurse at the Houston Health Centre for after hour emergencies?”
Rustad said that in order to have an evening nurse on shift, doctors need to be on call, and if there are not enough doctors, there is risk of doctor burn out.
But he says what he hopes to do is find a way for patients to be able to get treatment from a nurse, without a doctor having to come in.
“It would be able to free up a tremendous amount of resources in the health care system and it would be able to provide that kind of open, 24-hour care that we’d like to see in the community,” he said.
Green candidate Hamm was asked to give concrete examples of how he and the Green Party of B.C. would work to move away from forestry-dependant communities to a more diverse economy.
Hamm said they want to do more value-added and they want to increase the salvage licenses so they can use the fibre already in the forests for things such as oriented strand board, plywood, sprinkles and stairways.
“There’s a hundred different products that are out there being made from our wood, and we can just do that in our community more effectively,” Hamm said.
Liberal candidate Rustad says he believes new product development and new opportunities are critical.
B.C. Liberals have committed to working with industry and federal government on cellulose filaments, which could be very positive and could revolutionize the pulp industry, he said.
He adds that they have a plan are are working with MP innovations because with the strength of some filaments, it could be a negative on pulp industry.
“We’re working on all these new types of product lines, and we are trying to make sure that we develop them so that we have those additional industries coming into the province in our forest industry to work with our existing industry to be able to make sure that our forest industry is strong for the future,” said Rustad.