Candidates off and running, as election day approaches

  • Mar. 25, 2009 4:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret-With the provincial election less than two months away, candidates on the North Coast have started to campaign. Liberal candidate Herb Pond, the former mayor of Prince Rupert, made his first campaign visit to the islands this week. He arrived late Monday night after spending 24 hours aboard the Queen of Prince Rupert. “I went to sleep last night around 1 o’clock and I woke up this morning and we’re still in Prince Rupert,” he told the Observer Monday afternoon. “I was supposed to meet with the elders today, they have their quarterly meeting and I was on the agenda.” That’s just the reality of campaigning in the North Coast riding, and one that Mr. Pond is familiar with. A longtime resident of Prince Rupert, he’s been on the ferry advisory committee for several years, and the last time he took the ferry to Haida Gwaii his trip was also delayed. “When I came over for the Kaay Centre opening in August, we got stuck,” he said. “Then we sailed through four and a half metre seas… Everybody was green.” Mr. Pond said he expects many islanders know him from his six years as mayor of Rupert and the guiding force behind Rupert’s new container port. He said he has a close working relationship with Council of the Haida Nation president Guujaaw and vice-president Arnie Bellis, and has worked with the mayors and area directors on the board of the Skeena-Queen Charlotte regional district. “I jumped in as mayor at the toughest time Rupert has ever seen,” he said, adding that during his tenure, he brought together First Nations and non-first Nations groups, helped rebuild the local economy, and gave Rupert a global profile. “I like to think I can translate that to the whole north coast,” he said. The main issues in the northwest remain jobs and the economy, he said. The riding’s residents live in a “land of plenty”, yet that isn’t translating into jobs and benefits. “Overwhelmingly, we need to attract the appropriate investment and jobs,” he said. “It begins with partnerships and strong working relationships… and having good connections out in the business world.” The container port could bring tremendous opportunity to the region, he said, and there are opportunities on the mainland and on Haida Gwaii to transport goods like seafood and wood furniture to world markets. Mr. Pond said this week’s visit to the islands will be brief, but he will be back. “My plans are to knock on as many doors and talk to as many people as possible,” he said. “I plan to be getting out to the islands a number of times.” Meanwhile, NDP candidate Gary Coons says he can’t do too much campaigning yet, as he is still hard at work in Victoria as the North Coast MLA. He will be opening a campaign office this week, and said he’s looking forward to getting out and discussing issues with residents. He said he will definitely be coming to the islands in April for the education forum being organized by the Haida Gwaii Teachers’ Association, and will probably make several other visits. The issues he’s been hearing a lot about are tanker traffic in north coast waters, the health of the environment, and the economy. A longtime high school teacher who was first elected MLA four years ago, Mr. Coons has garnered attention as the NDP’s very vocal critic for ferries and ports. He has consistently demanded more public oversight of BC Ferries, improved safety standards, and halt to fare hikes. Three years after the sinking of the Queen of the North, he’s still calling for a public inquiry, and says it’s not right that the public still doesn’t know what happened. “We need an inquiry for the people who lost their loved ones and the passengers who were traumatized,” he said. “Although it’s getting to be a bit late – three years later you’re having an inquiry into why it sank?” The provincial election will be held May 12. So far there are three candidates for the North Coast seat: Mr. Coons, Mr. Pond and Green candidate Lisa Girbav.