Trent Ernst, Editor
Five of the six candidates showed up to the Tumbler Ridge all-candidates’ debate, as did about 50 or so members of the community.
Representing the NDP was Kathi Dickie. She says that, as a resident of Fort Nelson, she has seen what the boom and bust cycle does to people. “I see what it has done to our communities and to our families. We need to develop resources in a sustainable way.
“In Fort Nelson, women can’t have babies there. Seniors and elders aren’t able to live there to live out their days. I want to see communities be a really strong place. That’s why I chose to run for the NDP.”
Barry Blackman is the newly minted Progressive Canadian candidate, and this is the first forum he’s attended. “We’re sending a lot of our raw resources out. We should focus on the end product. There’s so much more we can do, we have a huge potential but we’re giving it away.
“A big problem I’m having right now is the national debt. $700-billion. It’s just choking our finances. All our potential slips away. We’re paying interest on interest. We never had that before. We had the ability to dictate our financial security. We should be using the bank of Canada for what it was designed for. This is where I stand.
“I’m very concerned about our health care system. If the provincial government doesn’t get the transfers, they won’t be able to deliver the health care that we need.”
Elizabeth Biggar is representing the Green Party. She is a former resident of Fort Nelson who left the town after getting fired from her job with NEAT after a number of run ins with the town’s mayor.
She says after saying no ten times, she decided to run. “The green party is not a one trick pony. I’m going to talk a lot about climate change, but there are other issues. Abolish student debt. Health care. Eliminate poverty. Right now Canada invests $1-billion subsidies in Oil and Gas. Fossil fuels are on the way out. Renewable energy is on the way in. Germany has 75 percent renewable energy. What if we were to take that money from subsidies to oil and gas and invest in green energy? What if we were to take one point from the GST revenue—$6.4 billion—and start building infrastructure? We’d unleash an army of carpenters, welders, workers. Everyone would start working right away.”
Bob Zimmer is the incumbent, representing the Conservative Party. He says Tumbler Ridge is the gem of this riding, and he wants to see it succeed, but he says the role of government is to make sure the “gates of trade remain open,” so when the markets for coal open up Tumbler Ridge is ready. He wants to see more diversification in the area, like the proposed Blue Fuel refinery in Chetwynd. “If we get those going, we can ride those lows a little easier.”
He asks how many tonnes of coal does it take to built one wind turbine? The answer? 170 tonnes. “The Conservatives are very environmentally conscious,” he says. “But we need resources.
“One of my favourite memories of Tumbler was giving a couple Queen’s Jubilee medals to two TR residents including Dr Charles Helm, and we’ve seen the crowning jewel of his effort with the Geopark.
“The biggest things for this riding are jobs and the economy. Jobs are important to everyone. To put food on the table, keep a roof over your head. Secondly, safety and security. In Canada we’re peaceful, but we need to keep the bully at bay.”
Zimmer says the Conservatives have proven leadership. “We weathered the storm of the last few years remarkably well. It takes some leadership to do it.”
The last candidate in attendance was Matt Shaw, representing the Liberals. “I have lived in PG for 30 years. I’ve been an educator teaching adult education. I’ve had a very good life. We’re crazy about outdoor things, so my wife and I have made our way here a number of times.”
Shaw says he studied politics in university, learned French and basically has walked a path that should have led to politics earlier, but it never seemed to be the right time. “This seemed to be the time to get into it. We’re at a fundamental crossroads in this country. I wrote a book that become a bestseller. I had the chance to go to Montreal and meet powerful Liberals, including Paul Martin. I became a Liberal to offer an alternative. We’ve been down this road for the last ten years. Are things better now? If we look at seniors, we have more seniors having a harder time making things meet. The middle class is getting hammered. Young people are having a tough time, too. When I got out of school, I started working at the mill, and was making $15/hour. I could raise a family on that. I could buy a house. Now, young people can’t make a living.”
He says, as a Liberal, he will take a strong interventionist strategy. “We need to invest in infrastructure, invest in this economy. That’s what the Liberals want to do.
“I became a politician because I didn’t want to act like a regular politician. What’s the first thing you think of when you think about politicians? It’s they’re a bunch of crooks. A lot of promises made, a lot of promises broken.”
After the initial introduction, the meeting moved on to question period. Most of the questions were directed at all the candidates, but the first question was directed at the NDP candidate. An audience member asked how to get more of the First Nations community working. “I think there are a number of solutions that could be found by having First Nations adequately consulted,” says Dickie. “Companies need to work with First Nations people. Part of that is including employment and training. In Fort Nelson, the Fort Nelson First Nations entered into agreements with three companies. They agreed to early involvement. The Fort Nelson First Nations has a construction company and 150 jobs created, not just for First Nations people. By having those agreements in place to strengthen the community, not just the First Nations community, there’s opportunity.”
Question about the candidate’s position on LNG.
Matt Shaw: We know one thing. In this riding, it’s critical to extract resources get them to market and sell them successfully. LNG is going to help this economy a lot. But it has to be done in reasonably and responsible. Environmentally responsible, get consent from First Nations. We’re very much for it, as long as it’s done
Bob Zimmer: The LNG industry is huge for the province, for this area. I’m in support of it. Accelerated capital cash allowance. It was in a room like this that I went up to the prime minister and asked him to start it. Environmental review would be done by now, but local First Nation has asked for review. Don’t want to trigger a judicial review, so going through with a fine tooth comb. Petronas made their final decision to go ahead. It’s going to be excellent. If you want to make a big difference in China with their pollution, give them access to LNG.
Elizabeth Biggar: I have a house in Fort Nelson. The property value has gone down $80,000 and I’m going to tell you I’m against it. Does it make sense to dump millions of gallons of water down the well and ship it off to China. Why don’t we start refining the oil from the tar sands instead of shipping it off raw? That’s what we’re doing now. We just need a government to lead us in this transition. No one loses their job. We can do better than LNG. As long as the sun shines and the wind blows, we have energy.
Barry Blackman: I’m for it. Let the process take its course. We need the exports. I’ve been to China. I’ve seen their environment, and natural gas would be good for them. It’s good for the economy; it’s good for the north. I believe that we need to have a green economy, but LNG, we need that now.
Kathi Dickie: LNG is taking gas from shale formation. In 2008, it was costing $5 to produce LNG, could sell it for $14. What has happened is shale gas is being discovered all over the world. US, Russia, China. There’s a worldwide competition. Millions of litres of fresh water is used on one frack and that’s taken out of the water cycle forever. In the future, it’s been said there will be wars over fresh water. We need to protect our fresh water. If they can find a better way to do it; a way to not use fresh water, that’s a billion dollar solution.
Question: How will your party ensure that the voice of the small towns is heard at a Federal Level.
Dickie: The people who are voting are the people in the riding. I am here to serve the people in the riding.
Blackman: Grants supporting local economy. When times are tough you have to keep capital in circulation to keep the wheels of progress going. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. When times are tough, it’s time for grants. Governments are for governing. It’s not a business. Got to keep things running. Right now in a downturn, and should be giving more support.
Biggar: Canada’s success is when we work together. One of our initiatives is the Canada Council, where we would bring together government to sit down at a table together so that it gets back to Ottawa.
Zimmer: My first responsibility in Ottawa is the constituents. What interests people in Tumbler Ridge, in the riding are my first concern. Bottom line is we want to make sure TR has jobs and people can stay here.
Shaw: I’ve seen a lot of politicians go to Ottawa and get elected to a portfolio. Municipalities are the backbone of this country. They bear the greatest burden with the least amount of resources. The main thing I would do if elected is get municipal leaders together, MLAs, brainstorm and figure out what we would need to do. Regular meetings, list of priorities, work our way through the checklist. Municipalities are what I want to focus in on.
Question: When elected to represent the people here. We don’t want someone who will represent us, not the party line. I am a veteran. Years ago I could call my worker, and he’d get back in 24 hours. Now it takes two or three weeks, if I’m lucky. The closest Veterans Affair office is somewhere down south. What’s your outlook for Veterans Affairs?
Biggar: The Green Party would reverse Harper’s legacy. The lump sum payment is not working. We need to start looking at taking care of our veterans for life. We give them $300,000. Britain will give them a million. Since 2011, the Harper government has taken $266-milllion from VA. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. We’d put that back, open the nine offices that were closed, pull soldiers out of Syria.
Dickie: My grandfather died in First World War. My brother is a vet. My nephew is a vet. I talk to him and ask how it’s going, he says when he calls, he gets an answering machine. The NDP would do away with lump sum payment, reopen offices. If someone is stressed, suffering PTST, does someone at Service Canada know how to deal with that person?
Blackman: I am a veteran. The sacred obligation that was made by Borden after Vimy Ridge stands. Progressive Canadians are all about fulfilling tradition and obligation. The party is full of Vets. We are active and we take this matter extremely seriously.
Shaw: The other Candidates have said what I feel. There’s a reason why the Vet groups are saying anything but Conservatives. There are moral obligations we have as Canadians, but we are not living up to them. It’s shameful, and there’s no higher priority for the Liberals. We have plenty of money for war, but magically, we don’t have enough money to take care of our Vets. We value the Vets very much. You took care of us, now we need to take care of you.
Zimmer: I was on Veterans affairs committee. I know we wouldn’t be here as a nation without these people. There have been no cuts to Vet service. The government has increased spending. When I was on committee, there was an insurance policy mentality with claims. We’ve changed that to a benefit of a doubt mentality. Now we assume that they’re telling the truth. Of all parties in the House, we have the most Vets, so don’t tell me we don’t care.
Question: In Tumbler Ridge we have kids coming to school hungry. Kids going door to door selling no name almonds to get elective classes at school; What will you do so they don’t have to beg borrow or steal so they can have a woodworking class?
Biggar: School Lunch program. It’s not acceptable for kids to go hungry. I work in a food bank right now. We’re one of the richest countries in the world, how is this appropriate? I was homeless when I was 17; I didn’t go to school, I struggled to make it through day to day.
Zimmer: Just to be clear, school programs are a Provincial mandate. The Federal government is only involved in secondary schools. But when it comes into my office it becomes my issue, no matter if it is Federal, Provincial, or Municipal. I was a teacher. It’s incredibly rewarding for me to talk to these kids. I don’t want to over-promise and under deliver, but I will do what I can.
Dickie: It’s a provincial responsibility for education, but it’s about children and poverty. Childcare is up to $1000, so one parent is staying home with the kids. This is limiting Economic Growth of that family. The NDP wants to have $15/day child care so both parents can get out there and work. I’ve been involved in our First Nations School for 30 years. We wrap our support around our kids. We had a breakfast program for the kids in the morning. We have a box of oranges and apples in the class. We have to get more money into our school.
Shaw: Politicians want to present easy solutions; the bigger question is why as a society are we churning out so many poor people, so many homeless people. We’re producing a lot of families with a lot of problems. We are in a deteriorating economy. People are not getting what they need. Families are not getting what they need. We need to do something about this. We are changing as a society because of this. The liberals want to do what they can do to bring people out of poverty. Cut tax rates for middle class. There’s no easy answer, but we need to start figuring this out, because it’s critical stuff.
Blackman: I see education as the building blocks of citizenship. The smarter the workforce, the more productive we are. Everyone should have a good education. Child poverty is a different issue. We need to focus on the family, and make sure if both parents are working that the child is looked after properly. And it is a Federal issue. Transfer payments have to be increased to the province.
Question on Homeschooling: are you for it or against it?
Zimmer: My kids were home schooled. I’m supportive of it. Keep at it.
Dickie: Education is changing. We have to innovate. The Internet is becoming a utility. If you’re home schooling, you need to have a strong Internet signal. Just increasing the technology.
Blackman: Public school serves a person as it helps socialize people. I know homeschooling is popular, but I really support public school. I’d probably fund that more than home school.
Biggar: I don’t know what the government does for homeschooling. It’s very important to have that option, because children learn in different ways.
Shaw: This is what my career was for a long time. Parents should have the right to choose what method of education is appropriate. There’s been a lot of countries that want to socialize kids and they make home schooling more difficult. We need to resist that. We need to give people the option: home school for anyone who wants it, correspondence for anyone who wants it and Internet learning for anyone who wants it.