The impending Haida title case and how it will change life here is the top concern for many islanders, says MP Nathan Cullen, after a three-day visit last week.
Mr. Cullen met with islanders from every community in a whirlwind schedule of open houses and 20-minute meetings.
“Clearly, the title case and front and centre on many people’s minds,” he said, adding that most people are reconciled to the fact that things will change, but still have questions. “What role do non-aboriginals have? What will logging look like?… What is the longer-term future of the islands?”
Employment Insurance is another big concern, with many people telling the MP that they are falling short this year. EI is treating islanders “callously”, he said, with the north considered one zone, and islanders expected to accumulate the same number of hours as people in the booming area of Fort St. John.
Mr. Cullen said he will be pressuring the decision-makers in Ottawa to change the zoning so that the northwest is its own area for the purposes of EI.
Islanders are also thinking about energy, he said, with almost everyone telling him that they do not want to rely on “stinky diesel” to produce electricity any longer when there is so much opportunity here for alternate energy like wind or tidal.
The failure of a long-planned co-generation plant in Port Clements which would have produced energy from wood waste seems to have focused islanders’ attention on the energy situation, Mr. Cullen said.
There’s a lot of money available from the federal government for alternative energy sources, he said, and he’s passing that information along.
Although islanders are clearly facing some challenges, Mr. Cullen said many parts of the world would love to have our problems. Haida Gwaii has abundant potential sources of energy, and the people who live here are building good relationships between communities, he said.
He said he was amazed to see how many people turned out to an evening open house at Queen Charlotte, and how politically involved they were.
“I thought maybe we were at the wrong meeting because there were so many people there,” he said, adding that in many places, people just don’t bother coming out to community events like that. “People on the islands consider it a responsibility – and a pleasure – to have those conversations.”
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