Islands gain a vote at regional district

  • Oct. 22, 2007 2:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret–The islands have gained an extra vote at the Skeena-Queen Charlotte regional district table at the expense of Prince Rupert, which has lost a vote. The changes in voting strength were made this month, after the 2006 census revealed that Rupert’s population has dropped, while the population in Graham Island’s Area D, which includes Old Massett and Skidegate, has grown to over 2,000. The regional district board comprises 10 directors: five representing the villages and rural areas on the islands, two representing Prince Rupert, one for Port Edward, and two for rural areas A and C (Dodge Cove and Oona River). For most decisions, each director has one vote, but for financial and property matters, the regional district uses a weighted voting system which gives more populated areas a bigger vote. Until now, Prince Rupert has had eight votes in the weighted system, with all other directors having one vote, for a total of 16 votes. But now, Prince Rupert has been reduced to seven votes, Area D increased to two, and the rest remain at one. That one vote is crucial, because it means Rupert can no longer outvote the rest of the regional district as it could previously. Regional district directors learned of the change at last week’s meeting, which took place Oct. 19 in Masset. Directors spent some of the meeting behind closed doors, listening to a preliminary report from consultant Laurie Gallant, who has been hired to review the islands garbage system. Administrator John Holland said the preliminary report was discussed in camera because it involves regional district property, and because changes to the garbage system will have personnel implications. Ms Gallant is now doing more consultation, and the board will talk more about the system at its November meeting, he said. During the public portion of the meeting, directors voted unanimously to lobby Ottawa to divide northern BC into two regions for employment insurance purposes. Dodge Cove director Des Nobels said the issue is important, because EI policies designed for the oil-rich and booming eastern part of the region are leaving unemployed fishermen and fish plant workers on the coast “basically destitute”. “I think this is extremely wrong,” he said. “I would like to see a letter go out in support of this change.” Prince Rupert mayor Herb Pond said that he and Masset mayor Barry Pages have spoken to federal politicians about this issue previously. However, the government is reviewing the BC boundary at this very moment. According to the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union, the government made boundary changes in Quebec and New Brunswick in similar situations after receiving between 500 and 700 letters of support. Mr. Pages suggested the administrator hit the “send” button a couple of hundred times once the letter to Employment Minister Monte Solberg is ready. Directors also voted in favour of donating $400 to the Charlotte City Cinema Club for bringing the Banff Mountain Film Festival to the islands. A letter from Premier Gordon Campbell and the BC Achievement Foundation caught the attention of Prince Rupert director Tony Briglio. The letter requested nominations of outstanding citizens for Community Achievement Awards. Rather than simply filing the letter, Mr. Briglio said directors should put serious thought into nominating community members, and getting the north coast “to the front of the queue for some of these awards”. “Let’s put our collective minds together to really draw out these people,” he said. Directors voted to have the administrator distribute the achievement award information throughout the regional district. (If any readers are interested, check out Directors also heard a report from the new recreation coordinator for the islands, Karen McMurray. Ms McMurray introduced herself and told directors she is open to any suggestions. She started the job in late September and is moving the office to Masset. The recreation commission has also hired an assistant coordinator, Queen Charlotte resident Beth Newton. The coordinators are already planning programs for the coming year including craft classes, art groups, jazz and swing classes and gymnastics. Several drop-in programs are already running, like men’s and women’s floor hockey in Charlotte, badminton in Port, and basketball in Masset. The regional district usually holds its monthly meeting in Prince Rupert, but chair Barry Pages said it is likely that more meetings will be held on the islands in the future. Half the board’s 10 directors are from the islands, so it is just as convenient to have meetings here as it is to have them in Rupert.