Election season was in full swing this month, as B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan kicked off his northern Highway 16 tour here in Prince Rupert last Wednesday.
Hosting a meet and greet at Oceanview Restaurant at noon with North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, Horgan had a chance to chat with Rupertites and those in the surrounding area about issues close to them.
And for many, that meant energy and affordability concerns.
“What I heard here is that hydro rates are crippling people – a 74 per cent increase since 2001 and they’re going to continue to go up over the next number of years,” Horgan said.
“I also hear from people that they’re tired of the big money in politics. They want to get people back to the centre of the political spectrum here in British Columbia. That means getting union and corporate donations out of the game so that regular people can determine how elections are run and the candidates that they want to elect.”
The NDP leader also discussed the party’s stance on developing an LNG industry in British Columbia, something he says wouldn’t be smart in doing while reviewing the current world market.
“We can’t force what won’t work. If the market’s not there for the product, people aren’t going to buy it. We can’t force people to take our gas and I don’t believe, along the way, we should have a government that’s going to give away the store just to get a shovel in the ground before the election,” Horgan said, adding he’s very familiar with the abundance of natural gas in the province, having served as the energy spokesperson for the Official Opposition over eight years.
The leader withheld support for the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG project earlier this year, the LNG export terminal furthest along in its development stages and currently under federal review, but said in the past with certain conditions, the party could reverse its stance.
Horgan left the door open for LNG development in the future but said as of now it wouldn’t be a prudent use of taxpayer dollars.
“I think people are smarter than that. They recognize that prices are depressed and the opportunity just isn’t there. I don’t think we should force that. I think when the time is right, if the markets are available, we’ll be able to export our product and that will be good news for British Columbia,” he said.
The Port of Prince Rupert figures into a bright future for the area, said the leader, with the competitive advantage of having the closest port to Asia on the West Coast, and he also referenced the proposed AltaGas propane export facility on Ridley Island as a jobs generator.
“Certainly we’d like to see a turnaround on commodity prices for our coal and our metals,” he added.
Rice echoed Horgan’s hesitation on forcing the issue on LNG.
“When you put all your eggs in one basket, that’s really problematic,” said the MLA.
“What I really appreciate about John Horgan and our way of thinking is that we are going to diversify our economy and really embrace tapping into resources that we’re currently not – like looking at a lot of green energy that we’re not currently exploring,” she said.
False promises by the B.C. Liberal Government in developing LNG and a skyrocketing cost of living are some concerns of hers and growing fees have been putting a burden on her constituents, the MLA said.
“This is a government that prides itself on low or no taxes and yet we pay for it in our fees – our MSP premiums and ICBC rates are going to go up and so the general issue of affordability for any working class people is a huge one,” Rice said.
Horgan added that the provincial government should be focusing on housing issues in the north as well as the Lower Mainland, which grabs all the headlines.
“We need to revitalize our co-op housing program. We need to make sure we are investing in new housing supply again. The B.C. Liberals have been talking a good game and they’ve got single occupancy rooms in the Lower Mainland, but in rural British Columbia there are challenges as well,” said the leader.
Horgan continued on his Highway 16 camping tour by visiting Terrace, Hazelton, Smithers, Burns Lake, Vanderhoof and Prince George later in the week.