Rupert key to economy: Fed Liberal caucus chair
It’s currently NDP country on the North Coast, but that doesn’t mean the governing federal Liberals aren’t exploring the Skeena riding.
Surrey MP and Chair of the Liberal Party of Canada’s Pacific Caucus Randeep Sarai made a visit to Prince Rupert on March 2 to get a feel for the issues surrounding what Sarai calls a key riding for the future of Canada’s economic prosperity.
“We have 17 Liberal caucus members in B.C., so the goal is to reach out to communities we otherwise don’t represent or we’re not members of parliament there, just to get a feel and not be isolated in our silos,” said Sarai.
“So we try to move out.”
Sarai went on a Port of Prince Rupert vessel tour before meeting with figureheads in Prince Rupert and Lax Kw’alaams and the caucus chair said he was very impressed by what the port is accomplishing and its role in the fortunes of Canada’s economic future.
The diversity of cargo encouraged him and Sarai said that while living in the Lower Mainland, getting a first-hand chance at seeing the North Coast and some of its opportunities and challenges has been educational for him, having first visited in 2002, right after the closure of the pulp mill.
“I wanted to see the port. It’s a big hub of a lot of activity here. Your port’s growing and expanding. You have a lot of LNG proposals, one has already made it through with its environmental assessment, and your grain terminals are bustling,” Sarai said.
“It’s just good to see a northern town and see how it’s doing. A lot of the indigenous communities here are also involved in the [industrial] process and it seems like it’s overall a fairly healthy relationship.”
Sarai and his caucus members have previously travelled to non-Liberal held ridings like Victoria and Kelowna and held quarterly summits where the caucus listens to regional and provincial stakeholders’ presentations. They then coordinate and liaise with each other, come up with a consensus and take that information back to Ottawa, to the appropriate cabinet ministers and the prime minister.
Some issues the group has been able to undertake include a BC Ferries ship-building issue, waiving tariffs on what would otherwise have been a $100 million charge for the organization in getting its ferries built (no Canadian shipbuilding company could build the new fleets), as well as the Oceans Protection Plan that will see $1.5 billion go toward the protection of Canada’s coasts, including six new radar facilities and tugs on the west coast.
“[It’s about] getting our caucus to have a collective voice, seeing what we collectively think is important and then reiterating that back to the prime minister, cabinet and to our remaining colleagues,” he said.
“We do that every week and we present one of the key or significant issues facing British Columbia right now, and what do we need action on right away?”
Despite some fishermen’s protests over the scope of the recently announced glass sponge reef marine protected areas, Sarai said that consultation is a very large part of an MP’s job, sometimes to the point of belabouring the issue.
“If anything, sometimes a member of parliament gets over-consumed with consultation because we are really focused on it. We don’t just have the ministers consult, all members of parliament consult in their regions and then compile that data and send it back ... Every member of parliament, including the opposition is encouraged to do that, to send that feedback back to the ministry so they know what the concerns are,” he said.
“Sometimes certain segments do get left out, but we hope they don’t and our goal is to cover as many as possible so that everybody gets their voice heard and we can respect their interests.”
For Rupert to keep up with economic advancements made elsewhere in B.C., Sarai said the key is innovation and for post-secondary education institutions to adjust their course offerings to fit the industries already located here.
“You have such a rich marine industry here. To stay innovative and ahead of the curve you have to have your post-graduate schooling programs gear towards that too, rather than just focus on stuff that makes people move from here. Focus on stuff that innovates the industry that’s already here ... Take the tentacles of those industries and expand it further,” he said.