Time to discuss the issues. Last week I described the magnificent scenery and hospitable people that my Ottawa staff enjoyed as they joined me on my summer tour of our riding. We were indeed fortunate to have also had the opportunity to meet with mayors, councillors and chambers of commerce in Fort Nelson, Fort St. John, Tumbler Ridge, Mackenzie and Prince George.
Though the issues and concerns raised at these meetings were as vast and as diverse as the scenery, there was a core group of issues common among all of these local representatives.
Of fundamental concern to all was how the federal government?s program to reallocate fuel tax revenues to municipal infrastructure would be dispersed. Obviously, if this funding is distributed on a per capita basis, most of the money will go to the lower mainland to the detriment of predominantly rural ridings like Prince George-Peace River.
I suggested that our local municipalities get together and use their collective, organized voice to lobby for an allocation formula more equitable to Canadians that don?t live in one of Canada?s mega-cities like Vancouver.
The proposal for a Canada-Alaska rail line was also a recurring discussion. This initiative holds tremendous economic potential for our riding and all of B.C., yet while the U.S. and Alaska are keeping the idea alive, the Canadian government has demonstrated little interest in the project.
While on the matter of the transportation of goods, concern was expressed about the ownership and development of the Port of Prince Rupert. This port represents a critical transport link for our forestry, mining and agriculture sectors and local councils are closely monitoring its future.
Another issue that carries enormous economic potential for our constituency is offshore oil and gas exploration. While the federal moratorium on drilling off the Queen Charlotte Islands remains in place, I?m encouraged that David Anderson, who is vehemently opposed to offshore drilling in B.C. has been stripped of his job as Environment Minister and as the Liberal?s senior political minister in B.C.
In fact, I stated that I?m hopeful that I, and your local governments and businesses, can build a cooperative working relationship with the new Minister of Industry and Paul Martin?s senior political minister in B.C., David Emerson. Many are already familiar with Mr. Emerson in his former role as CEO of Canfor.
Other discussions included: the softwood lumber and beef export crises; the Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic; NavCanada services and fees at local airports; cargo service at the Fort Nelson airport; Fort St. John plans for the 2010 Olympics; CMHC backing in Tumbler Ridge; the ongoing fight to restore the Northern Residents Deduction to Mackenzie; and the need for additional Customs Agents at the Prince George Airport.
This is by no means a complete list of the issues raised ? there simply isn?t enough space. As usual, it was a thorough local briefing that will provide myself and my staff with added focus and momentum as we prepare for the opening of the 38th Parliament this Fall.