North Coast MLA Bill Belsey is on the islands this weekend, his last visit here before the election a week from Tuesday. He was in Queen Charlotte on Friday, and Masset Saturday. He dropped by the Observer office Friday morning, where we asked him a few questions. He's what he had to say.
What do you like about the job?
Â…certainly, the riding itself is a beautiful riding. one of the nicest parts of BC. The variety of challenges makes it really interesting When I sit in the house and hear people debating issues, just about every one of those issues applies to communities in this riding. That makes it interesting.
What do you dislike?
Probably the distances between those beautiful locations makes it challenging. When you are travelling back and forth to Victoria you virtually lose three-quarters to a whole day, so I have learned to do an awful lot of work in a corner seat of a Dash 8
I have learned to hate heading down to Victoria in the middle of winter when it is pitch-black when you leave, wet, rainy and dismal. However days like today make up for it.
The government's record on the economy
I think we have a very good record on the economy.
In general, the province of BC has created more jobs than any other province in Canada. The vast majority were full-time jobs, a large number are jobs women are taking. I think we have an excellent record of job creation and career opportunities.
I think the tax incentives, dealing with (the) regulatory system that was in place, reducing that by one-third, all have helped tremendously to attract people back to the province of British Columbia.
I think those international agencies that lend money to governments have recognized the fact that our commitment is solid and that we are sticking to the game plan.
That is reflected in the changes in the interest levels that we are paying which in the end saves the people of BC literally tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars.
What about the economy in the north?
It depends on what part of the north you look at.
Certainly the northeast continues to lead the province in job creation with the gas and oil development in that area. Prince George is now developing again with a robust economy.
Prince Rupert now, a real estate agent there made more in the last month than he made in all of the last year
It's certainly challenged here on the islands.
It is time for the islands to get together with a unified voice, instead of all these little pockets that seem to be up and down the islands.
That's what we're telling people the last trip and this trip. if we are going to do something here we better get together and decide what we are going to do, come up with a game plan that shows that we are all pulling in the same direction.
You know, to me it doesn't make any difference. I don't live here, it doesn't make any difference if I am talking to the north or south, east or west or aboriginal or non-aboriginal, we better get together. If we can get together, and deal with some issues, I think we can make things happen here.
We have to get people that are willing to come to the table and understand they are going to have to give up something and they are going to have to figure out the difference between dialogue and debate. Because if they come with dialogue, we can get a heck of a lot more done.
When we took over the province, the school districts made it absolutely clear to us they wanted the flexibility to make the decisions. We also stated clearly there were two ministries where we would not cut funds; education and health care. And we haven't. The funding budgets for education today is $1.5-billion higher than it was in 2001.
School districts have the flexibility they asked for. They have their money right up front. We have given them more funding than they ever received before. The only things we took out of contracts was classroom sizes and the right to strike.
We are putting more money in than ever before, we are giving more flexibility to the school districts than ever before and I don't see one mention about the 30,000 less students.
Every year we put more in than we said we would, we made it clear what we are going to put in and we still hear that we are cutting. Explain to me where the cuts are.
Take the community of Port Clements. The school is down to about 50 students. So they are going to have spare classrooms. They should be applying for new funding (to set up the space) for a seniors' meeting place, that takes up some of (the costs). These are the options that we are putting out there to try to deal with this issue.
On ferry service
The province has stated that they will be building three new ferries. An agreement (to build them offshore) would save the province somewhere around $130-million which would go into the upkeep and maintenance of other ferries.
That has gone through treasury board and it is my understanding that an announcement will be made sometime in the next couple of months.
At least two of those three new ferries are coming to serve the northern routes. We are getting those new ferries, two of them. I would think (the configuration of the vessels) has been decided. I would think so because it is pretty hard for somebody to quote a price to build a ferry if they didn't know what they were (quoting to build).
After May 17, you let me know and I would be more than pleased (to raise your concerns).
Oil and gas
My government's commitment is to carry on a dialogue with coastal communities and we will not lift that moratorium until we are satisfied that it can be done using environmental practices and good science. That moratorium remains in place today and we are carrying on a dialogue with coastal communities. There have been meetings with the Council of the Haida Nation on island, there has been buy-in from some First Nations, certainly not on the islands.
We are doing everything we said we would do. And we will carry on doing that and see how it goes.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think it is one of the dumbest things that we have done to think that we can manage the forest and all the related industries on this island from Chilliwack. And I will continue to fight to get that brought back to the islands, 'cause it just doesn't work.
Part of my battle to make government understand, to make the forests ministry understand, is to bring whoever we have to up here. I have had great success in bringing ministers to the riding over the past four years. I will continue to do that. I have had Mike de Jong up here to deal with issues and we will get him back here. We'll make them understand.
First Nations' issues
The province is part of a tri-partite system that meets with aboriginals for rights and title. That process (with the province the federal government and First Nations) is taking place. We have four First Nations that have made it through step five. That has never before happened.
I have Bella Bella, Klemtu, Hartley Bay, Metlakatla, Port Simpson, five communities in my riding sharing (with others in the province) almost $90-million and about a million cubic metres of timber. When we offered to the Council of the Haida Nation as part of our duty to consult with them, they refused. They did not accept the $1.8-million.
They haven't chosen that path of negotiation. Theirs has been one of litigation. And that changes how you deal with issues. Because every time we say something to them we have to make sure it will stand up in a court of law. Therein lies the challenge.
I have spent-how many times have I been on the islands, about fourteen times?- and I go and meet with the Skidegate Band Council and the Old Massett Village Council and they said to me they appreciate me coming over and talking. They appreciate talking about issues and things that they want. Some things they know I can deliver, some things I've told them I cannot deliver. And the reason I can't deliver them is they are on a chosen path of litigation and it just changes how things are done. So they understand it. And I think I have gotten more support than probably the BC Liberals have ever had before, because they know I am not going to BS them. I would dearly love to deliver some of the things that I am getting for other places. And I can't do it.
Over the next four years?
I'd love to see a percentage of the logs that come down on this island be available to those that want the logs on this island. Maybe 20-30-percent of the annual allowable cut, I don't know, but a percentage made available to locals on the island, so they can get their value-added up and running.
In Prince Rupert, it would be the container port. That is going to be a huge advantage to the region. I mean, you will be able to build log homes over here, stuff them in a forty-foot container, (ship them) over (to Rupert) by barge, load them onto the ships. It's going to open up the international market, the Asian market.
I'd love to see pocket cruise ships, one right here in Skidegate, a terminal for pocket cruise ships.
On the election
We'll just have to see. I tell you, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, I'll be able to walk down any street in my riding with my head up and say 'I did a lot for this area'.