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Local MLA ready to work after weeks-long election limbo

“There’s a lot of work to do in a short period of time,” says re-elected North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice.
Jennifer Rice speaks with constituents after she was re-elected as the North Coast MLA on May 9. (Shannon Lough/Black Press)

All You Need Is Love played in the B.C. legislature last week when Jennifer Rice and her New Democrat colleagues were sworn in as MLAs.

But after an extremely close election followed by weeks of recounts and an unfinished transition to minority government, they might have chosen The Long and Winding Road.

“It felt really great, the energy is good,” said Rice, who was re-elected as the local North Coast MLA on May 9 with 57 per cent support.

“I think we’re just anxious to get going.”

Premier Christy Clark has asked to recall the legislature on Thursday, June 22.

While the BC NDP and BC Green Party have agreed to vote together to replace Clark and the BC Liberals in government, that isn’t likely to happen until the following week, after Clark presents a throne speech.

If so, it could be July before the NDP form a minority government with Green Party support. The next B.C. budget bill is due just two months later, in September.

“There’s a lot of work to do in a short period of time, with a lot of issues high up on the agenda,” said Rice.

Topping the list is the ongoing fentanyl crisis, she said, and the first full school year after a Supreme Court ruling that upheld B.C. teachers’ right to bargain class size and composition.

Premier Clark, NDP Leader John Horgan, and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver also traded some time-sensitive letters last week that debated whether or not there is still time to review the $9-billion Site C dam project which is already underway near Fort St. John.

For Haida Gwaii and the rest of the North Coast, Rice said another two priorities are high on the to-do list — reducing ferry fares and trying to negotiate a deal on softwood lumber exports to the U.S.

“We all know how important forestry is to Haida Gwaii,” she said, adding that John Horgan is committed to meeting U.S. President Donald Trump within 30 days of becoming premier to discuss the latest round of U.S.-imposed tariffs.

Rice noted that over the last 16 years of BC Liberal government, the province has lost 30,000 forestry jobs while log exports have increased five-fold.

Log exports have a role in the economy, she said, but the NDP plans to boost manufacturing of engineered wood products to add more economic value and sawmill jobs.

According to the power-sharing accord signed May 30 by the NDP and Greens, a Horgan minority government would also adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — something the BC Liberals had been reluctant to do out of concern it would mean a First Nations “veto” over development projects.

That’s not how Rice sees it.

“We’re in new times, in 2017,” she said.

“We have various court cases, such as the Tsilhqot’in decision, which rightly recognizes aboriginal rights and title. We need to be operating with a clear understanding of that.”

Rice said court battles between the province and First Nations put strain on all sides, and also create uncertainty for business owners.

“I think if we can work much more collaboratively, it’s going to be better for everyone,” she said.

“The proof is in the pudding, so I fully expect people to hold us accountable to that.”

It’s not yet clear whether Rice will have a cabinet role, but in any case, if the Green-supported NDP does form government, it will mark the first time the North Coast has had a government-side MLA since BC Liberal Bill Belsey’s term from 2001 to 2005.

“We haven’t had a representative from our end of the province in government for a very long time,” said Rice.

“All the knowledge of the challenges and opportunities Haida Gwaii faces — I’ve got four years of experience spending time on the island to bring to the legislature.”

With files from Joseph Jack, Black Press.