Haida Gwaii surfaced a few times when the three North Coast candidates met for their first debate last week.
But industry concerns were the biggest thing on the water.
Sharing a small table in CFNR FM’s Kincolith studio, B.C. Green Party candidate Hondo Arendt, BC Liberal candidate Herb Pond, and BC NDP candidate Jennifer Rice met for a polite but pointed debate on April 19.
A former environmental activist and Prince Rupert councillor who also taught kayaking and scuba diving, Jennifer Rice won her first term as North Coast MLA in 2013 with 57 per cent of the vote — a strong majority she credits largely to her stand against Enbridge Northern Gateway.
When it comes to LNG, however, Rice has a different take.
Like the BC Liberals, Rice and the NDP support LNG, with conditions.
Unlike the BC Liberals, Rice said the province should do more to consider the cumulative impact of the several LNG terminals proposed for Prince Rupert and Kitimat, adding that Premier Christy Clark has ignored local industries that already exist.
“She chose to pursue LNG at the expense of everything else,” said Rice.
“We lost 30,000 forestry jobs under this premier.”
Herb Pond is a former Prince Rupert mayor and Lax Kw’alaams band administrator.
Before launching his second bid for North Coast MLA — he finished second to the NDP’s Gary Coons in 2009 — Pond worked as a community relations advisor for former LNG proponent BG Canada.
“For starters, we need to acknowledge that LNG, done right, would be a real positive for the North Coast,” he said, noting that an LNG terminal could raise four or five times more property taxes than the shuttered Skeena Cellulose pulp mill ever did.
Pond noted that several First Nations have not only negotiated environmental oversight over proposed LNG projects, but also a giant “stop button” should they fail their standards.
Pond said the NDP are sending industry the wrong message by talking about extra reviews beyond the existing environmental assessment process.
“It sends a chill, quite frankly, in the investment climate around the world,” he said.
Hondo Arendt is a professor of history and political science at Northwest Community College who has run for the B.C. Green Party twice before.
While Rice and Pond both wore party buttons and dressed business-casual, he sported a T-shirt that read “VOTE” in bright green.
“Most third parties tend to fade away once you don’t make a big breakthrough, but we continue to grow,” said Arendt, adding that Haida Gwaii has been particularly supportive over the years.
Arendt said no one will be surprised to hear the Green Party is the least friendly to the LNG industry — if any projects do get built, Arendt said the Greens would tax them until renewable energy sources are equally profitable.
“Natural gas has often been sold as a lot friendlier to the environment,” he said.
“It does produce less carbon, but in terms of climate change, it’s really just as bad as other fossil fuels.”
Haida Gwaii got the most time to shine when the debate moved to ferries — should they be declared an essential service?
Arendt was unsure he would go so far, but said North Coast ferries should be valued for their wider socioeconomic benefit and not just their bottom-line.
Pond said he has already spoken with the Minister of Transportation about improving the North Coast ferry routes, adding that after his years as Prince Rupert mayor, he is confident he can get results.
Rice said drastic schedule cuts and sky-rocketing ferry fares under the BC Liberals hurt Central Coast tourism and caused poorer health outcomes for Haida Gwaii residents who can’t always take a week off for mainland medical appointments in winter.
“They need to do a full economic analysis,” she said.
Forestry took a backseat to shipping in the debate, but the candidates did get one more industry question.
Should the province sign a natural resources-sharing deal with the Northwest B.C. Benefits Alliance, a group of 21 municipalities and regional districts that includes those on Haida Gwaii?
Arendt, Pond, and Rice all answered yes, so it seemed there would be little else to say.
But Rice said Pond’s stance was out of step with that of his party, given that the B.C. Liberal government has stalled on the idea for four years.
“I guess that’s why North Coasters might want to elect me,” Pond replied, adding that he would back the deal even if it meant voting against his party.
“If that is true, then why didn’t you run as an independent?” asked Rice.
“Your party doesn’t represent the North Coast’s interests.”
Pond said he chose the BC Liberals because he believes they are better for the economy as a whole, adding that the North Coast needs a champion so it can catch up to the rest.
“I have some mayor friends who became MLAs that were in and out of caucus because they didn’t always agree with their party,” he said.
“They’re my heroes — I would be that kind of MLA.”
Asked about B.C.’s troubled child welfare system, Pond said the province needs to do more.
Arendt highlighted the systemic lack of equal services in more remote communities, such as Kitkatla, Kincolith, and Hartley Bay.
Rice said the province needs to close the funding gap between provincial and First Nations agencies, and make it a priority to lower the number of indigenous children in care, while retaining cultural connections for those who are.
Over the entire 70-minute debate, only one issue split all three candidates wide apart: campaign financing.
Earlier this year, the New York Times called B.C. “The ‘Wild West’ of Canadian Political Cash.”
Unlike most provinces, B.C. has no limits on political donations — unions, corporations, even people outside Canada can spend what they like. In March, an investigation by the Globe and Mail found some donors broke one of the few rules that does exist, by masking company donations as personal ones.
“I’ve knocked on a ton of doors, I’ve talked to a lot of people. Not once has somebody raised this as the burning issue in their life,” said Pond, who did agree the issue is worth reviewing.
Last year, the BC Liberal Party raised $13 million, over half of it from cash-for-access fundraisers such as dinners with the premier.
“We’ve proposed six times to ban union and corporate donations in the house, and not once has Christy Clark or the BC Liberals allowed this to come up for debate,” said Rice.
Rice defended the NDP’s own $6.5 million in union and other donations, saying they can’t fight this election with their hands tied behind their backs.
“Money gets favours,” said Arendt, noting that the Green Party only accepts personal donations, and has run “Spartan” campaigns for years.
“Herb says it’s not on people’s minds, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important — that means it’s working,” he said.
“It’s not only skewed democracy, but it’s done a great job of hiding itself.”