MP’s budget meetings popular in Queen Charlotte, Masset

  • Feb. 20, 2009 11:00 a.m.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen held his final budget consultation meetings this week, meeting with about 12 people in Queen Charlotte Wednesday and another 18 in Masset Thursday. The MP said the meetings were to give residents a chance to have some input on the federal budget, recently passed, since the federal government almost never consults rural areas at budget time. In Masset, the MP focused discussions on six areas of the budget, taxes, bailouts, infrastructure, spending cuts, the social safety net and the environment. He then broke the large group into two, to make discussion easier. “This whole economic collapse to me was black and white for many years. Why did everybody miss what was so obvious,” Tim Fennell of Port Clements asked.”It’s always about growth,” Chris Ashurst of Tow Hill Road, asking if there’s such a thing as a sustainable level in the economy where growth is not needed or important. Meredith Adams talked about energy. She said even with BC Hydro paying a higher price for locally generated electricity, “it still makes it illogical” as the selling price still doesn’t cover the cost of production. She also spoke in favour of the government offering a rebate for installing ecologically-sensitive energy production equipment. Other concerns expressed included the fish waste problem and Employment Insurance. After an hour’s discussion, the two groups were reassembled.Reporting for the group he headed, Art Lew of Masset said people felt that the social safety net needs improvement. He noted that Employment Insurance doesn’t respond to people who are in extreme crisis, and as well, small business owners cannot contribute to nor draw EI benefits.Mr. Lew said his group was concerned that infrastructure projects on the island should use at least some local materials and labour, and he said that because the way the islands are losing population, attention needs to be paid to infrastructure items such as recreation, education, health care and better broadband internet service. Mr. Lew’s group agreed that taxes are too high given what we receive and “everybody is against bailouts”, he said. Mr. Cullen reported to the full group on discussions in his smaller one. He suggested full cost accounting is an important concept, where the cost of disposing of packaging, for example, needs to be reflected in an item’s cost. The concept was applied to food, treated wood (a current issue in Port) and the fishery. Mr. Cullen said his group had discussed the fish waste disposal issue, and thought that a good approach would be creating fertilizer out of the offal, for use in the forest and gardens, but only if a solid, full business case could be made, meaning no one wanted to see the solution subsidized. Group members also agreed they’d like to see more possibilities for local businesses to bid on government contracts to benefit the local economy. On bailouts, “we didn’t like them either”, Mr. Cullen said, adding “why not invest in where the economy is going to be, not where the economy was.” Towards the end, Mr. Cullen said he was pleased with the input islanders gave him. “Some of the ideas I got out of you tonight, I would never have got out of the Vancouver Chamber of Commerce,” he said. Those attending appreciated him as well. “You are the best,” Chris Ashurst said, “you are the most engaged MP I have ever seen.”Mr. Cullen plans to do three things with a synopsis of what residents expressed;. mail copies to everyone on the islands. combine islanders’ comments in a larger document which also contains comments from the other eight communities visited and mail a copy to everyone in the riding. give a copy of the final report to the Minister of Finance and all other major federal players in the riding, including Western Diversification, Indian and Northern Affairs, and DFO.

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