Editorial: Up the down escalator

Trent Ernst, Editor

I was at the most recent All Candidate’s Forum at the Community Centre (and where were you?). The format featured more questions from the floor and fewer questions from the moderator, which (hopefully) meant that more actual concerns that residents actually have were getting raised.

After the debate was over, I bumped into Mayor Wren. While we were discussing the debate and the turnout, he leaned conspiratorially over to me and said “Probably 80 percent of the issues raised? The District isn’t responsible for. We can only advocate the provincial and federal government or industry.”

Which got me thinking about the troubles facing Tumbler Ridge, and how many of them are tied into Tumbler Ridge’s newfound popularity.

This is not a new thought, nor is it profound, but it’s amazing how many of these issues tie into the whole issue of how many people actually live here.

Back when the census results came out early last year, we talked a fair bit about how services provided by the federal and provincial government: Northern Health, RCMP, Ambulance, etc., were influenced by the population, and how, with less than 300 new residents declared in the 2011 census, Tumbler Ridge was “hooped” …. At least when it came to providing new services for the next few years.

The All Candidates Forum once again highlighted these issues: why isn’t there services for parent? For Seniors? For kids? We need more of this or better that. Back in the day, Tumbler Ridge had X, Y, Z, why don’t we have that now?

It’s true. Back in the day, we did have a lot more things as a community. Unfortunately, that was before, and we’re living in the now. And right now, what we’re doing as a town is walking up the down escalator.

For many people, their conception of Tumbler Ridge is ‘that place where the housing sale was.’ While we’re nearly a decade past, it is still fresh in people’s memories, because we haven’t got the message out that Tumbler Ridge is back in the game, baby.

About the only good thing one could say about the downward slope Tumbler Ridge was on in the early 2000s was that the town was still coasting on the previous census data, so services remained higher than expected until 2001, when the census revealed that the population was a mere 1,932. Now, Tumbler Ridge is experiencing the same phenomenon, but in reverse. As we climb back up the escalator, we’re banging our collective heads on that ceiling that was lowered in the early 2000s. The provincial and federal government love to taketh away, but convincing them to give back? Well, that’s a whole ’nother issue.

Here’s what was supposed to happen. In 1977, as they were considering building the town, there were supposed to be 7,940 people living here by 1985 and over ten thousand by 1987, which was the town’s projected stable population. However, from the beginning, there was insecurity over viability of the mines, and as a result a lack of long-term investments. (Sound familiar?) Instead, the population peaked in 1991 at 4,794, less than half of what it was supposed to be and nearly double what it is today.

So here we sit, nearly forty years after those original optimistic estimates, trying to rebuild our street cred as a community, trying to rebuild our population, and trying to rebuild our services. All the while, the community is seeing as much economic activity as it ever has.

And it’s not just government services. Ten years ago, when the town was dealing with no economic engine and the mass exodus of much of its populations, there was only one place to buy groceries, only one hardware store, two video store, two gas stations, no place to buy clothes, and a couple restaurants. Now the town is booming. There are two mines in operation and at least three more in active development, a wind project completed and at least one more in the works. And if you go downtown, you’ll see we have one place to buy groceries, one hardware store, two gas stations, no place to buy clothes, and no video store. The good news story of the last decade for downtown is the Dollar Store and Subway.

The thing is, while these are problems, they are better than the alternative. And while we’re banging our heads, hard, on the ceiling that was lowered in the early 2000s, the reason is because we’re on our way back up, and that’s heading in the right direction.