Charlotte Views: Getting to “yes” for our coast

Opponents of the NDP want to undermine it as a party of “professional protesters” and “urban environmentalists” who could care less about people like us. This line of attack seeks to pit rural communities against urban centres. Never mind the entire (mostly rural) coast is either NDP orange or Green green, the mere assertion that John Horgan’s government will harm places like ours is powerful political fodder.

News that Lelu Island, located at the Skeena River estuary, is no longer in the plans for processing and exporting liquified natural gas provides a strong case for how the opposite is true. The NDP, led in part by the likes of Jennifer Rice and David Eby, has the potential to most fully represent the needs of B.C.’s rural regions. It’s true both Rice and Eby have a history of fighting for economic and environmental justice: Eby as a community activist and civil rights advocate, Rice as a champion of Northwest Coast stewardship and First Nations rights and interests. If this makes them “professional protesters,” then so be it. What is important is where their loyalties lie, and how their past commitments inform how they govern, not whether they once protested against injustices or harms.

Loyalty to large multinational companies that see B.C. as a source of energy for building economies in other regions of the world does not necessarily serve our interests. This is certainly the case if taking this energy out requires another cycle of boom and bust economics, with workers brought in and later shipped back out. When this happens we end up paying the price with a broken economy, disrupted community, and wrecked environment. That’s certainly not loyalty to rural B.C.

But we do need more than “no” to massive projects aimed at taking more from our regions than we actually have to give. More than protest, we need investments that build strong local economies at the scale of what’s already here. If the charge of protest and radicalism is meant as a warning the NDP simply says “no” to all rural development, then I agree. Our region is worth investing in. We are enriched with culture, people, and nature. We have everything required to sustain vibrant and strong communities. What is needed is education, infrastructure, and capital to invest in the region itself.

Things don’t need to be big to be real, and details matter. We also need to have projects to say “yes” to. For the NDP to deliver, we need the resources to build our local economies at a scale that keeps our young gainfully employed, improves the quality of life for those who are already here, respects First Nation rights and interests, and empowers our community leaders.

A B.C. rural strategy starts by rejecting large-scale projects that serve only urban centres at the expense of rural regions. It continues with a renewed interest in rural education, including trades at the secondary andpost-secondary levels. More programs, both trades and academics, would be provided in smaller communities. Big investments in technical, business, marketing, and science training offered in rural communities would ensure that skills get developed within communities by those most connected to the place itself. Such a strategy would include building regional-scale infrastructure. For coastal regions that would need to include treating the ferries as a marine highway. But beyond ferries, infrastructure at the regional level would need to community-driven, given that locals know what’s needed to build local economies. This would also need to be centred on revenue sharing with and self-governance by First Nations. Finally, it’s time for capital to go toward projects by and for local communities, not multinationals.

Rather than simply wait for someone else to invest in B.C., we should be investing in it ourselves. The NDP has the chance to make investments in communities like ours, especially if these investments aren’t first crowded out by companies with nothing more than a decade or two of extraction in mind. My hope is that the likes of Rice snd Eby can put the same passion they put into protesting into building B.C. for the long term of forever.