North Coast MLA candidates at the forum held on May 2.

North Coast MLA candidates at the forum held on May 2.

North Coast MLA hopefuls debate at all-candidates forum in Prince Rupert

North Coast MLA candidates battled it out verbally at the all-candidates forum, discussing topics like LNG and economic priorities.

The North Coast’s three MLA hopefuls hashed out topics at the all-candidates forum on May 2, discussing subjects like liquefied natural gas (LNG), environmental protection measures, economic priorities and more.

North Coast New Democrat Party (NDP) candidate Jennifer Rice, BC Liberal hopeful Judy Fraser and Green Party candidate Hondo Arendt told a large crowd of people why they believe they should be elected to represent the North Coast in Victoria. Candidates started off with opening statements, with the Green Party’s Arendt speaking first about it being time for the province to inject change into the system.

“I don’t see a huge difference between the two major parties… I see a very strong similarity between any large and entrenched party. They tend to waffle, they tend to adopt any policy that is likely to get them elected, and they tend to push you along to be basically a good solider in the battle so they can very quickly change from being a party that’s concerned with climate change, to one that’s willing to ax that tax, depending on what the political advisers tell you to do,” he said.

Fraser, the Liberal candidate, called herself a “true North Coast booster”, and said the region needs to take up the new hope in the community in the form of new industry.

“I believe this is a pivotal election that could shape the future of our riding. I was raised on fishing and forestry… Unfortunately these industries no longer drive the economy and life on the North Coast. While they are still important, new industry, new infrastructure and new investments are the future for our families and communities,” she said.

NDP candidate Jennifer Rice said the riding is seeing a growing divide in equality, and her party will invest in forestry, protecting the ocean and making education and skills training the number one priority.

“British Columbia has incredible advantages like our natural environment, our extraordinary diversity, and our strategic access to key markets. The North Coast constituency embodies these advantages,” she said.

Next was the preliminary question segment of the forum, revolving around economic priorities of each party, pressing issues needing to be addressed and how candidates will allow small businesses to thrive.

Fraser said her economic priority is to fight for continued port development, and have at least one LNG project go through on the North Coast. She said by doing this, the population will increase and there will be new opportunities for small businesses.

Rice said the NDP will take action to address economic priorities by focusing on skills training, focusing on the resource industries, building the LNG industry in a “responsible, sustainable manner” and helping small, medium and local businesses by implementing a stable and fair tax system.

Green Party candidate Arendt said priorities facing the economy are caused by the structure, which heavily relies on resource extraction, stating more needs to be done to maximum the benefits the region already has.

The hot topic of the evening was potential LNG projects on the North Coast.

Fraser said it’s imperative that the region act quickly on LNG as the North Coast isn’t the only area interested in the market.

“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If we put moratoriums and don’t act quickly it’s an opportunity that’s going to pass this generation by,” she said.

Rice said the NDP wouldn’t abandon traditional industries, like fishing, mining and forestry, which she said is unlike the Liberal’s method of putting “all their eggs in the LNG basket”.

“When I first moved to Prince Rupert everybody was waiting for the mill to reopen… When that faded people thought the cruise ship industry was going to come and save us. This notion the LNG industry is going to save us from all our economic woes is really unfair to the citizens of the North Coast,” Rice said.

Arendt said both Liberals and NDP are supportive of LNG, but the Green Party is not “wildly enthusiastic” about all the aspects of LNG on the North Coast, and people shouldn’t be scared into the belief that “it’s now or never”.

The topic of LNG development went hand in hand with another area discussed by candidates, protecting the Skeena Estuary from over-development.

Rice said the region would have to work closely with the federal government and the Port of Prince Rupert on the issue, and the NDP would be willing to look at the province’s environmental assessments to make it a “more robust system”.

Arendt said the NDP’s plan to “enhance environmental assessments by streamlining and speeding up assessments” doesn’t make sense, as the two cannot be done together. Arendt also said the region seems to be embracing new developments in a paranoid fashion that “we better do it or else”.

“It’s not that I’m against development, I’m certainly pro-economy and pro-jobs… but we certainly run the risk of overdeveloping the Skeena estuary through the whole range of projects that are coming up,” he said.

Fraser said if elected she would speak against over-development, and for responsible development.

Another area discussed was the carton tax, with all candidates being in favour of the tax.

In closing statements, Fraser said her sons had to leave the region to find jobs, and she would like to see young people stay in the region because of opportunities in the area. Rice spoke about the NDP’s platform, and not adding to the province’s deficit. Arendt took his time for closing statements to address Rice “before she’s elected MLA”. The Green Party candidate said while he believes himself and Rice have similar views, he listed a number of areas he believes the NDP have flip-flopped.