Houston’s Rob Newell is the re-elected Regional District Director for the Houston Rural area (Area “G”).
The area has an estimated 975 potential voters and covers 14,446 square kilometres from the top of Hungry Hill to four kilometres east of Topley, north to the Walcott Station Road and south to the end of Owen Lake.
This is Newell’s second term as Director in the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) and he is passionate about what he wants to accomplish.
As communities in the north, “we just need to work together,” he said.
Lobbying government for revenue sharing as an individual northwest community has been fruitless, but by working together the north can move forward towards a positive response, Newell said.
Recently, 27 communities and their electoral areas have created a coalition called NW Alliance to give the north a collective voice.
One key thing they want to do is get provincial tax revenue shared more equally.
“It’s not always population that is important, it’s land mass and the fact that a lot of the resources come from the north,” Newell said.
Over 76 percent of B.C.’s manufacturing exports come from 100 Mile House north, and Newell says B.C. leaders need to realize that “a healthy urban economy needs a healthy rural economy.”
Secondly, the NW Alliance wants to change the Gas Tax Fund and allow it to be used for getting reliable and affordable high-speed internet.
Newell says this is essential to provide equality and give rural businesses and schools the same opportunities as urban ones.
It’s also essential to provide telemedicine, so that northern residents can talk with medical professionals online and don’t have to travel so far for simple appointments.
It will also help entice professionals into the area and fill the skills gap, Newell said.
Newell says he is also excited about the impact of the newly completed Regional Skills Gap Analysis, which will be implemented by the Strategic Workforce Opportunities Team (SWOT).
It will help workers get certification, businesses develop partnerships, and it will encourage entrepreneurship, Newell said.
In this way, it will develop a home grown economy and keep youth in the area.
Speaking of work still needed, Newell said the biggest problem he sees in the north is the deficit in rural infrastructure.
He wants a long-term sustainable infrastructure plan to be developed so things are maintained in a reliable, predictable way, not influenced by bias or done in secret.
Newell also says it’s important for rural communities, especially Houston, to develop exit strategies for larger companies to agree on before coming in.
As for 24/7 health care, Newell says he thinks it will start with nurse practitioners who can deal with wounds and treatment, and can care for patients discharged early from hospitals.
He says recruiting nurses and doctors to the area will involve intentional welcoming and connecting a doctors family in the community – an effort that brought huge success in Fort St. James.
“We have to make it attractive for these people to come in,” he said.
Finally, Newell says perhaps the most important thing is that people need to get involved in decisions about infrastructure, priorities and future plans for their communities.