Islanders should make demands to ensure there are benefits from offshore oil and gas, and not just simply give it the thumbs down, Northcoast MLA Bill Belsey told the Observer last week.
“Â…We can bury our heads in the sand and say ‘no, we don’t want it’, he said, “but I’ll tell you, it is going to go, provided the majority of people in the provinceÂ…support it. It will go. It’s much better, I feel, for islanders to say if it goes, we are demanding double-hulled tankers; if it goes, we are demanding that there will be no overboard dumping of drilling mud; if it goes, we are demanding that supply ships must be standing by at all times in case of emergencies. That’s the way to win something for our communities. We are demanding a share of royalties for our communities, we’re demanding that something happen for our community. To turn around and just say to government every time you show up, ‘get out of here’, ‘we don’t want it’, eventually government would say ‘why go and talk to those guys, they don’t want it, they’ve made that clear, they said no, no, no, no.'”
The MLA also argued there will be benefits for the islands from offshore oil and gas, even if there are not a lot of jobs created here in the early stages.
“You know, I talked to people today who want road improvements, I’ve talked to people who want hospitals, I’ve talked to people who want better ferry service, I’ve talked to people who want improvements in infrastructure, people who want more money in education. And you just have to wonder. What is the disconnect between revenue generated in a province and satisfying the wants of all those people out there? There shouldn’t be that disconnect, but for some reason there is, somebody has decided that oil and gas revenue, if it goes to Victoria, that’s bad. It should all come here. Well, I wonder if they plan on buying ferries with it, on repairing ferry docks with it, repairing roads with it, increasing the funding of schools. There shouldn’t be that disconnect. They are related.”
Mr. Belsey also said that Sandspit, where he had just spent part of his trip, may benefit, as it is clearly an excellent possibility for a crew change point.
“You’ve got an airport there that you can land some pretty big planes. You have a heliport right there that you could get ’em off the plane, put ’em on the helicopter and deliver them to the rigs. To me that’s an ideal place. This idea that there are no benefits to the islands, I don’t buy it and I’d argue the point with anybody”, he said.
The MLA said he doesn’t think islanders should embrace oil and gas no matter the risk, but said he thinks it is much more astute, and much better for the islands, if we say ‘we’ll consider it, as long as there are benefits’. “That to me is a much better way of dealing with an issue,” he said.
Mr. Belsey also said he thinks changes to forestry regulations are just about ready to turn that industry around, especially the changes brought in where the province now has 20-percent of the annual allowable cut from tree farm licences to hand out to community and First Nations interests, among others. “I think we are at the start back up again stage,” he said, noting that changing direction in government is “a long, slow process”.
“Will you run in the election next year?” We asked. Mr. Belsey replied as follows. “I have the odd nightmare. I think so, I think so. I think I have a decent track record. I have made a number of contacts and done a lot certainly for outlying communities.”
The election will be held on May 17, 2005, the first time in the history of BC that the date has been set years in advance.
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