Young councillor has deep roots

At 23, Jonathan Van Barneveld is the youngest councillor in Houston history.

At 23, Jonathan Van Barneveld is the youngest councillor in Houston history.

On the morning of the day he was sworn in, Van Barneveld wrote one of his final university exams in Prince George—in the span of a week, he came home with an elected office and a UNBC forestry degree.

But young as he is, Van Barneveld has been getting schooled in politics and community-building since at least 2004.

“I’ve always believed in being involved, no matter what community you’re in,” he said.

Here in Houston, Van Barneveld coached kids’ cross-country skiing and co-founded the Houston Hikers Society, which re-opened the Palisades trail and spruced up several others last spring and summer.

“I think last summer there was only one weekend that I wasn’t outside camping, fishing or hiking,” Van Barneveld said. “And that’s because I had to go to a wedding.”

Van Barneveld said forestry is a natural fit given his love of the outdoors, adding that UNBC has a top-notch program.

While in Prince George, Van Barneveld started the first campus club of Young New Democrats.

“It’s worked, because there are so many more political clubs than when I started,” he said, adding that UNBC now has Young Conservatives, Young Greens and Young Liberals clubs as well.

“It’s a good thing because it opens up a dialogue and people are actually getting involved.”

Van Barneveld got his first taste of politics by volunteering on NDP MP Nathan Cullen’s winning 2004 bid for the local Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding.

“Nathan’s really shaped my life, for sure,” he said, adding that he was excited to see Cullen do so well in the first NDP leadership debate last week.

“I think in the grand scheme of the NDP he’s really a moderate,” he said. “He just wants to get things done. I know staunch conservatives in this riding who vote for Nathan because of his approach.”

After helping Cullen through two elections and acting as Houston’s rep for the pro-electoral reform and the anti-HST campaigns, Van Barneveld threw his own hat into the federal ring. Last spring, he finished a strong second to Conservative MP Richard Harris, taking 30 per cent of the vote in Cariboo—Prince George.

“We did really well actually. It was the most votes we’ve had since the 1980s,” he said. Van Barneveld’s bid was close enough that even the late Jack Layton stopped in to show his support.

In the federal election, Van Barneveld said he had great exchanges when he met voters on their doorsteps. But his rivals dogged him about his youth.

Candidates and voters in the Houston election were more receptive, he said.

“In the municipal election, it was so refreshing—there was no real opposition to how old I was,” he said.

Van Barneveld has deep family roots in the community, and is the fifth generation to follow in the forestry footsteps of his his great-great-grandfather.

“He landed in Bella Coola, walked up the Alexander McKenzie trail and built a homestead on Ootsa Lake,” Van Barneveld said, adding that the family moved to nearby Burns Lake after that homestead was flooded out by Alcan.

Harry Hagman, another of his pioneering forebears, started up one of the first mills in town—Buck River Lumber.

“I only figured that out because this summer I was at the museum in Prince George and they had an exhibit, an unusual exhibit, with a bunch of paintings of beehive burners,” said Van Barneveld, laughing.

A caption under a painting of the burner at Buck Flats Roads and Highway 16 said it had belonged to his family.

“We haven’t moved around a lot,” he said. “I guess I don’t want to break up the line.”

Although he’s quick to admit that his family is full of “fairly opinionated people,” Van Barneveld said he’s the the first one to jump into politics.

“I don’t want to go into council guns-a-blazing, because I think there’s going to be a steep learning curve,” he said. “But I think it’s going to be good, with this young-ish council. We might be able to get a lot of stuff done.”

One of Van Barneveld’s obvious strengths is in looking out for Houston’s future in forestry.

After doing fieldwork at Canfor, West Fraser and BC Timber Sales, Van Barneveld said he’s seen forestry from all sides: government, industry and academia.

He spares no time saying what a challenge Houston faces when the mills finish off the last of the region’s beetle-killed wood in the next 10 years or so.

“It’s big. The whole interior’s going to be feeling this,” he said. “Because of the uplift, there’s going to have to be a fall-down to compensate. Houston could very easily become the next McKenzie.”

Van Barneveld said Houston will need to start planning for that fall-down.

“Forestry has been screaming for years that it needs to diversify and find value-added products,” he said. “Maybe, with the fall of the mountain pine beetle, that will be the final kick in the butt.”

But among the challenges, Van Barneveld also sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic. A suite of young councillors were just elected in Burns Lake, Houston and Smithers, and that promises change, he said.

And Houston has done a lot for itself in the last two years or so, he said.

Getting up to leave the Houston Today office and prepare for council’s inaugural meeting, Van Barneveld pointed to a front-cover photo of the two new solar panels by the Chamber of Commerce.

“That’s an important symbol,” he said.

“Houston’s really got a fresh coat of paint,” he added. “For the traveller passing through, we have a brand-new GM building, Castle put a new face on, a bunch of businesses painted by themselves, the Tea Gallery opened up, and you know everybody comes to our pool in the region.”

“It’s turning around again, and that’s really nice to see.”

 

Just Posted

lotto max logo
Are you the lucky winner?

A $1 million ticket was bought in Burns Lake for Friday’s Lotto… Continue reading

Jill Mackenzie carefully replaces books on the shelves at the Houston Public Library. (Angelique Houlihan photo)
District approves annual library grant

Craft kits featured for summer reading club

The tradition of Houston Christian School grads giving Bibles to incoming kindergarten students will take place this year, but outdoors and in a modified fashion. (File photo)
Houston Christian School grad day is June 24

Grads themselves have set tone for the day, says teacher

Scott Richmond will be starting as the new vice principal for HSS and TSE. (Submitted/Houston Today)
Houston gets a new vice principal

Scott Richmond takes over from Dwayne Anderson who moved to Smithers

A Pacific Salmon Foundation grant of $3,000 is going towards the tree plantations. (Cindy Verbeek photo/Houston Today)
550 trees planted in Houston through A Rocha

Houston Christian School students and volunteers help with the tree planting

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Most Read