Trent Ernst, Editor
Bob Zimmer is not willing to call the election.
Despite getting elected with 62 percent of the vote in the last Federal Election (his nearest rival had less than half of that), and despite being a well-respected politician with a squeaky clean (some have gone so far as to call him boring) reputation, Zimmer is unwilling to rest on his laurels.
Sure, the riding has voted conservative for the last 40 years, but look at Alberta, where the NDP got elected. “I don’t think I ever have it safe. People say ‘you’ve got it made,’ but it comes down to that day that people go to the ballot box and make their decision and until that day, until that ballot is cast, it can go any way. It has typically been a conservative riding, but the world that we’re in…look at Alberta and other places you think it’s a given and it’s not. I need to keep working hard regardless of how good a riding it has been for Conservatives.”
Zimmer has been about Tumbler Ridge for longer than most people who live here. His first trip out to Tumbler Ridge was in the early 1980s with his family. “I remember driving in on the old Fellers Heights road,” he says. “We saw the Royal Bank, the muddy roads. A couple years later I was out here working because my dad was out here. The next year I worked out here for the whole summer working on the Rec Centre with my dad, who was super of the job at the time. I was there the day Premier Bennett did the blast to open up the mine. I was in the arena to help get the place ready for the big party. I’ve known Tumbler Ridge for many years and seen it grow.”
He’s also seen it suffer beneath a fickle global economy. “I want to see coal mining come back, and the economy diversifies.”
Zimmer is not immune to a growing anti-Conservative bias across the country, and, while he believes that people have the right to their own opinions, he isn’t a big fan of the ad hominem attacks that have been getting tossed around recently. “I don’t understand why people hate you simply because you have a political affiliation,” he says. “People hate our prime minster, but they don’t know him. I know him, and he cares for our country. I don’t hate any of the other parties or other candidates. For me, that’s one of the tough parts of the jobs. A lot of us work really hard to bring opportunities here, working on immigration files, working behind the scenes and pouring our hearts out for people. The hate part is difficult for me to understand.”
He says that his first mission as an MP is to represent the people of this riding, even if he finds himself sitting on the other side of the house in a month. “I was raised to work hard. If you want to get something done, you just work harder than the next guy. We’ve only had a majority the last 4.5 years. Jay did that for many years before I was here, and I will do that for as long as I am elected, regardless of which side of the house I’m on. For me, the constituents are always number one. If it aligns with the party, that’s good. Sometimes if there’s an issue that’s not part of the discussion in the party, it’s my job to say ‘hey look guys, we should be doing this.’ The example I use is LNG. We’ve got the accelerated cost allowance, license extensions. That wasn’t something on the party’s radar until I put it on there. It was very satisfying to go to the announcement and have the Prime Minister say ‘congratulations Bob, you got it.’ It wasn’t something that would have been there if I hadn’t asked for it. It might not be on the agenda of the party, but that’s my job is to make sure that it gets on the agenda.”
Besides, he says, once the election is over, party politics are less important than representing this area. “Some people get confused about the political office vs the MP office. As a Member of Parliament, I serve all 105,000 people in this riding. You do what’s best for the biggest benefit for all, and if there’s smaller issues, you deal with those on a one-off basis as they show up. I try and represent all my constituents. We do this a lot in committee in Ottawa. We try and work toward consensus. You wouldn’t think so, but in committee we often do try and find consensus. We all try and come to agreement before we release a document. The reality is, even last election, when I won with 63 percent, that means 37 percent voted for someone else. But I’m still here for those folks.”
While he’s made million dollar announcements, Zimmer says his most satisfying achievement are the small things. “One guy came in and told me he’d made an error on his taxes 15 or 20 years ago,” recounts Zimmer. “It was a small fine, and they said ‘don’t worry about it’. When he came into my office, he now owed $40,000, and he was worried that he would have to sell his house and lose everything. We got on it, and within a few weeks, we had solved it, and he owed nothing.”
Zimmer says it’s those moments that make the job worthwhile. “When you see the tears of gratitude, and know that you’ve affected someone’s life, that’s incredibly rewarding. Helping someone with an immigration issue…those are little gems that make it worthwhile. The little ones that don’t make the news are very rewarding.”
Another key moment of the last four years was awarding the Queen’s Jubilee medal. “It was very difficult to pick just 30 people. But to see people in tears because of this recognition, to make that person feel they were thanked for all the work they’ve done in their community, I get to be a part of that.”
If elected, Zimmer says his biggest goal is to see LNG realized. “That’s going to be the biggest economic difference in BC and indeed in Canada. We need to do all we can to see that through. We need to do it so it’s environmentally sound. That’s my main priority, and in a larger context, jobs for the riding.”
Ah yes, jobs. It’s tough in a riding that’s so big and so diverse. “It’s a challenge to have everything chugging away at the same time. It’s like cattle and grain. When cattle prices are high, grain is low. When grain prices are high, cattle prices are low. But maybe in that is an example of what we can do. We can ride those transitions softer. When the mining industry is low, maybe people can go work in the forestry industry, for instance.”
He says there are still things that need to change. “When we still import oil products out east, that’s ridiculous. We have the oil in Alberta and BC. We need to keep working on that.”