Jennifer Rice is excited for the future of the North Coast district, and the recently re-elected MLA of the NDP, is in Victoria today to be sworn in.
Should the B.C. Liberal government lose a confidence vote after the impending speech from the throne on June 22, Rice may be part of a proposed minority government accord between the NDP and Greens.
Rice won 57 per cent of the vote (5,243) and handily beat B.C. Liberal opponent Herb Pond and Green, Hondo Arendt, who received 34 per cent and 9 per cent of the vote respectively.
“I’m excited for the prospects. A lot of people feel the north is ignored,” said Rice, “it was only recently, when Christy Clark and the [B.C. Liberal] government had their liquid natural gas (LNG) agenda, that people started focusing on communities like Prince Rupert and Kitimat again.”
She added that her electoral district has much more to offer and more needs to be done to support rural and northern communities.
Rice cited tourism potential, shellfish aquaculture potential and hundreds of workers who previously worked in fishing as areas and initiatives needing support.
“We’re committed to reinvesting in the forest sector,” Rice said, “Under the B.C. Liberals, we lost 30,000 jobs and we’ve seen a 500 per cent increase in raw log exports.”
Rice stated that she understands that raw log exports employ longshoreman and are part of the economy and wanted to clarify what she said was a misunderstanding about the NDP’s position on the practice.
“We’re not saying we want to stop raw log exports,” said Rice, “we’re saying we want to actually add value to our forest sector so that we have more people working in mills and we’re exporting not only raw logs, but wood products.” She also said that the NDP wants to use B.C. engineered wood as much as possible in the construction of public buildings.
Earlier this spring, President Donald Trump’s administration imposed tarriffs on Canadian softwood lumber exports to the United States ranging between three and 24 per cent. A report released by the Conference Board of Canada on May 31 stated that imposed duties will cut $700 million from exports and a loss of approximately 2,200 Canadian jobs over two years. Rice said that NDP leader, John Horgan, is committed to meeting with Trump within 30 days of forming a government.
“It’s high on the list of priorities,” she said, adding that investments in public infrastructure and using locally engineered wood will help the B.C. economy.
Rice most recently served as served as opposition critic for northern and rural economic development but spent the bulk of her first four-year-term as critic for rural and northern health.
Should the B.C. Liberals lose a vote of confidence when the legislature returns, it would be the first time in more than a decade that the North Coast riding was a part of the government in power (B.C. Liberal Bill Belsey was elected from 2001-2005.) It would also be the first time since 2001 that the NDP held power in the legislature. Rice has no interest in the Speaker of the House position and when asked which ministry portfolio she would like to be assigned, Rice spoke of her commitment to serve her constituents.
“Every MLA has an important role to play,” she said. “So whether I’m in cabinet or not, I fully intend to serve the people that elected me and all British Columbians,” adding that she hoped any potential cabinet position would be relevant to rural and northern communities.
Should the proposed minority government accord between the BC NDP and Greens take power, Rice said she had high hopes that it would last for a four-year term, as proposed.
“Initially I thought it was going to be challenging,” she said, “but the agreement made with Andrew Weaver [Green leader] and talking with his caucus of two others, there’s a strong desire for stability and proportional representation, which would change our electoral system.”
Rice added that the NDP and Greens are eager to work together to show how a minority government could work in the future.
Known as an opponent to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, when asked about the future of fossil fuel projects in B.C., Rice clarified her position.
“The Enbridge Northern Gateway project was not a project that was in line with the values of the people that live in the north,” she said. “It’s not to say that I’m against every pipeline project,” adding that she relies on a pipeline to bring natural gas to Prince Rupert.
“The risks with that project [Northern Gateway] were too great.”
When asked about her views on the liquified natural gas (LNG) industry, she doesn’t share the same opinion as Green Party leader Andrew Weaver.
“I differ a bit with Andrew Weaver’s notion that LNG is dead,” she said. “I’m in agreement with the fact that LNG is not going to be a grand saviour, which is what Christy Clark campaigned on in 2013.”
“Do I think we need to transition off of fossil fuels? Absolutely,” said Rice. “but can that be done in an instant and overnight? And to the detriment of workers in the northeastern part of our province? No.”
Rice will be sworn in with MLAs from the B.C. Liberals and Greens on Thursday, June 8.