A co-founder of the new B.C. Rural Party says the Liberals are spreading a false accusation that he is an NDP supporter.
Darcy Repen says he has been a vocal critic of both the B.C. Liberal Party and B.C. New Democratic Party in the past for not being strong advocates of rural regional development.
“That accusation is 100 per cent false,” said Repen. “I have never supported the NDP or worked on an NDP leadership campaign. I am disappointed a Liberal MLA would utilize false information in that way.”
“That is exactly why so many of us today question the integrity of our politicians and the political process in this province.”
Repen, the mayor of Telkwa, a small community of 1,350 located outside of Smithers in northwest B.C., was accused by Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick last week of being a campaign supporter of Premier John Horgan.
Repen’s political party co-founder Jonathan Van Barneveld, a Houston municipal councillor, was also noted to be a past president of the NDP provincial youth wing of the party.
Linda Larson, the Liberal MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, also reiterated Letnick’s claims, calling it “just plain silly” to form a new political party and not acknowledge past personal political affiliations.
“If you are an NDP supporter just say it, and don’t just create a new political party to do the same thing. But I think there is fertile ground in B.C. especially with the promotion of proportional representation. You could start to see more marginalized small political parties start to pop up.”
Repen argues political affiliation is a false red herring, saying the B.C. Rural Party is a response to an unfair and ill-thought out excess of infrastructure dollars being devoted to the highest populated jurisdictions of the province, namely the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island.
Repen says that is not an NDP or Liberal issue, as both fall prey to playing to the voters in those high density urban areas.
He said frustration in northwest B.C. led in 2014 to the creation of the Northwest Resource Benefits Alliance, a political lobby group supported by municipal governments from Vanderhoof to Terrace to encourage Victoria to spend more infrastructure dollars in their communities.
He cited the example of a badly needed water reservoir enhancement project for Telkwa, lack of funding for which had placed a moratorium on residential development growth.
“The funding was finally allocated last year for that project but we’ve been waiting 15 to 20 years for that to happen. That has placed roadblocks on development and prevented Telkwa from becoming a more sustainable community by now,” he said.
Repen feels the population growth of the Lower Mainland is placing more intense pressure on urban growth, while long-time or retiring Greater Vancouver residents are looking to move elsewhere for a rural or smaller urban community to live.
“Instead of pouring money into huge infrastructure projects down there, we should be looking at how to enhance the sustainability of the rural communities in our province that could absorb some of that population movement and take some of the pressure off the Lower Mainland,” he argued.
He cited the example of the Okanagan, in particular Kelowna, which has seen rapid growth caused by people in Alberta and the Lower Mainland making a lifestyle decision to relocate in the valley.
“I think Kelowna can be held up as a model for the type of development we want to encourage in other communities, where they can grow into smaller cities and have the amenities and services to facilitate that growth,” he said.
“I would make the argument that for infrastructure investment, you get a bigger bang for your buck making those investments in a region such as between Smithers and Terrace rather than in Greater Vancouver.”
Larson, who represents 17 communities—seven of which are incorporated—in a provincial riding that stretches from Manning Park to Christina Lake, has experienced both sides of the political frustration spectrum, as an MLA and former mayor of Oliver.
“When people get into politics, whether it be school district, municipal or provincial, is that great ideas just don’t happen instantly. Sometimes it can seem like an awful tangle of bureaucracy to go through. It can be a very time consuming process. It takes time to get things done,” Larson said.
Larson said her attitude in the last more than five years as an MLA is to develop a relationship with all her riding communities and voters, not just those who voted Liberal.
“I don’t think there is a disconnect between MLAs and their constituents in the Interior. I think the disconnect comes with people living in the Lower Mainland who work in an office tower and don’t realize the importance of resource-based industries play in our province because they don’t see it first-hand,” Larson said.
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