On Oct. 23, 2017 at Happy Jack’s Restaurant & Bar in Houston, Dianne Watts, for BC Liberal Leader, presented to the public and answered questions from Houston residents.
Watts said that she has been enjoying travelling from riding to riding because she wants to understand the issues that are in the communities.
“If a town or city is not viable, economic or socially, it falls apart. One of the things that is important to me is to ensure that all levels of government are working together, and if they are not, to find we have to determine what that looks like and why, ” said Watts.
Watts added that every community is different and should be supported accordingly.
“One size does not fit all. The issues in Prince Rupert are different from the ones in Houston, and are different from the ones in Burns Lake, and all through the province,” said Watts.
Watts said a question she gets asked often is, when there was five balanced budgets, good job creation, turbulent credit rating, and $2.7 billion dollars, why didn’t we reinvest it in communities?
“That’s a good question. It is the same question that I have. In order to be physically responsible and have a good foundation, it has to be meaningful to the communities,” said Watts. “Because it is not government money, it is money that all of us have contributed through taxes and industry.”
Watts said that she thinks, “We could have done a better job and really looked what communities really needed and invested in them.”
Watts added that if the government does not do that, then the younger generations will leave searching for education elsewhere.
“When that happens we have a problem population goes down and we start to have more social problems than we ought to,” said Watts.
Watts said that defeating the referendum for proportional representation is a priority of hers.
“Understanding what proportional representation would be, which is the urban areas dictating what goes on with the rest of the province, is not fair,” said Watts.
Engaging young adults is an ongoing act Watts and her campaign are also working on, she says.
“I’ve gone to a number of universities and have asked, ‘why are you not involved?’ I always get the answer, ‘you didn’t ask us’ or we are too busy telling them what they need. We need to go forward in a new direction and keep youth and communities engaged,” said Watts.
Watts was asked by a Houston resident, “How are you planning on bridging the gap between the north and south of B.C.?”
“With the B.C. Mayors Caucus we brought mayors together, we wanted to see how we in the larger communities could assist the smaller communities, and what the commonalities were and how we could collectively work together,” said Watts. “It is about making sure that everyone has a voice and is at the table.”
“How would you ensure that equal representation of small communities?” asked another Houston resident.
“A seat at the table,” said Watts. “Your mayor here would have a seat at the table, as well as all the other mayors in this region, and the provincial government. It is not about separating, it is about joining them together. If you put a system in place where you have a diverse group together, then you can begin to effect change, and identify what needs to be changed.”
Mayor Shane Brienen, for the District of Houston, asked, “Are you familiar with the Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA), and what are your thoughts on it?”
The RBA aims to negotiate with with province of B.C. to provide share of provincial revenue that has been generated over the past five years to give local governments the capacity to prepare for future development and deal with urgent infrastructure needs, as well as receive proportionate share of ongoing revenues to offset ongoing service and infrastructure costs, leave the region better off through significant legacy resources, and enable local governments to determine how contributions under the agreement will be distributed.
Brienen said to Watts that Houston is a prime example of why the Resource Benefits Alliance is so important. He described how back in 2014 Houston lost a mill, and were told that Houston was viable for 10 to 20 years with the mills and timber, but when the timber swap took place, overnight the community found themselves having to revamp budgets and planning, that was based on what the government had communicated to Houston council on the communities economic future.
“Just on stump-age alone, the community was worth $1 billion,” said Brienen. “Yet when the community hit some hard times there, I won’t say that the community did not get any help, but we needed more help. We were looking around the $2 million mark to get a number of things in place and get our feet back on the ground.”
Brienen added, “So I want to know what your thoughts on RBA as a whole and how you help northern communities, because we feel that give a significant contribution to the province, and we understand that we are real drivers of this province, whether it is forestry or mining. Resources have built this province over the years.”
“You are absolutely right,” said Watts. “I don’t think we can forget that B.C. is a resource based province. But there is a lot of innovation in Prince George and in small communities. And when we look at communities, if you’ve got major mines and mills shutting down, the impact is going to be significant, so there has to be mechanisms in place where that absolutely covers that off. I believe that we have to have a better working relationship as the provincial and federal government with communities.”
Watts added, “If communities aren’t strong, the province is not strong. We have to make sure that we are taking care of our communities, if we don’t, we are going to have people that are unemployed, loose their homes, on the street, and that whole cycle then pays for the social services.”
Watts said, “I absolutely support you in this.”
Another Houston resident asked, “What are your thoughts on universal basic income?”
“I am a supporter of innovation, free enterprise, making sure that people have opportunities for post secondary education and trade education, and supporting people to be the best they can be,” said Watts. “I find that if you have people all at the same level, there is no incentive to grow, to innovate, and be the very best that they can be. Mediocrity is not where we need to be.”
The Houston resident said, “That’s not really what universal basic income is. It is more of a replacement for employment insurance.”
“When helping with people less fortunate, whether it is through employment or disability insurance, I think that is important to have in place, but I also think too that it comes back to providing opportunities,” said Watts.
A Houston resident asked, “Do your opportunities include transferring resources from Alberta to B.C.?”
“You’re talking about the pipelines?” asked Watts.
“Yes,” said the Houston resident.
“When there are projects that have gone through the process approval, provincially and federally, they should be built. You can not not build it. It has already gone through the process. However, when you have someone says they are going to use any knowledge and tools to stop these projects, that is not ok. That destabilizes the province, and it sends a message globally that we are not open for business, and that is wrong,” said Watts.
“We need to be working with our partners, and make decisions that are science based, not politically based. And we need to make sure that if there are concerns, we need to be having those conversations,” said Watts.
Counsellor Rick Lundrigan, for the District of Houston, asked, “Should you be successful in your leadership in the next election, what are you going to do to ensure that those of us in the central north, aren’t discouraged from the situation we are in now? What is your plan moving forward to get re-elected?”
“I would say that this last election was flipped on its head,” said Watts. “In the lower mainland, they lost 10 seats and one on the island. They don’t hold the power. I also say that proportional representation is wrong and unfair. We really need to ensure that that referendum is defeated, and that there were voices and representation through the north and not have urban centres dictate what happens.”