During his last press conference of the year with regional media, Nathan Cullen looked back on 2017 from Parliament Hill.
Phoenix remains an issue
“The Phoenix fiasco just keeps on going. We have people from around the northwest working for federal agencies who are just living a nightmare of not getting the right pay,” Cullen said during the Dec. 14 telephone conference. “The government keeps calling it unacceptable. They’ve spent close to $500 million so far trying to fix it. It hasn’t been fixed.”
The member of parliament said that he is calling on the government to consider a reset.
“It seems like we’re throwing a lot of good money after a lot of bad money.”
Abandoned vessels act grounded
Minister Marc Garneau’s Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act would have made the owners of decrepit vessels financially responsible through steep penalties and potential jail time. The Liberal government’s vessel act, Cullen said, doesn’t hold the same weight.
“The federal government quickly rushed through their own bill and said, ‘Oh, it’s the same thing.’ There’s a procedural trick in the House of Commons to wipe out the first bill from my colleague. Well, their bill has nothing that our bill has in it,” Cullen said.
“One of the things we’ve learned through experience and why the mayors up and down the coast support our legislation is because if you can’t find out who the owner is, you can’t make them pay to get rid of their boat. So, what’s the point of having a new piece of legislation that isn’t going to change anything in the real world?”
Through a secret ballot, it was decided that Garneau’s bill wouldn’t be heard in the House of Commons. Cullen called the process an “anti-democratic stunt” to shut down the conversation before it started.
“It’s very frustrating to me as a member of parliament where we have an idea that’s probably supported by Canadians,” Cullen said. “It has merit, and we’re not even able to present it because of some ancient rule that the Liberals dug up and then were able to shut us down.”
Petronas out, Pembina in
Cullen said he has met with Pembina and visited the proposed project on Watson Island, after the announcement that the company will build a small-scale propane terminal on 10 per cent of the decommisioned land.
“My concerns remain always the same: what does this mean for local jobs, what First Nations agreements are in place, and what potential impact does this have on the environment?” Cullen said.
“They seem to have mostly satisfied all of those boxes. It’ll have a good economic impact in Prince Rupert and the North Coast and seems to have a much broader First Nations support than some of the LNG projects that have been proposed. So it passes most of the tests on that regard.”
Greyhound: freight service vs. human service
After recent meetings in Terrace and Smithers, Cullen said he is concerned about Greyhound pulling its bus service from the North Coast.
“Especially in light of the tragedy of so many women and girls going missing along our highway, the fact that Greyhound came out — I think they made their announcement while the inquiry was in the Northwest, which shows their total lack of understanding and sensitivity to where we live. It is an essential service,” Cullen said.
During the scrum, the member of parliament said he planned to meet with Greyhound in the coming days or in the new year to discuss what, if any, federal measures could be taken.
He called the bus service unpopular, and added that the scheduled times were a safety concern.
“I think it’s because they’re moving freight and making freight their top priority, and that’s what we heard at some of the hearings. They’re shipping good and packages and that’s the timing that works best for their freight service as opposed to their human service,” Cullen said, calling on Greyhound to work with communities to find a solution that works for everyone.
In response to Greyhound’s request for public funding, Cullen said that while he understands the company is private, the licence they operate under in B.C. includes the whole province — not just the most profitable routes.
He’s concerned that the bus service is looking for an excuse to leave the northern region, and said to stay tuned on conversations to come with the company.
“I’ll advocate for anything that makes sense, especially if it keeps businesses happy and keeps our people safe.”