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REPORTING · 14th January 2011
Walter McFarlane
Concerns about the hospital came up but Monaghan, who was present, was asked to elaborate on what was being done. She said the Kitimat Health Advocacy Group was keeping a handle on things. She added they are looking for help from the Government to have a ferry run on the North Coast. The ferry, once running, would be able to bring people in to Kitimat.

Bill Eynon asked if De Jong was elected premier, how he would ensure Kitimat has a voice in Canada. De Jong replied he was not supposed to say this but he believed the opposition was not evil, were similar in objectives, but had a difference in how they realize these objectives.

He said he was a fan of independent power producers but they used the wrong name, they should have used the name community power because they could be community partnerships much along the same line as community forests.

Robin Lapoint said Kitimat and the region were going to grow and asked for extra consideration towards school and health. He said they also needed ocean access for shipping. Right now, he has to ship through Vancouver. De Jong said they could develop the infrastructure for this or not. He could not understand why they would forgo the opportunity.

Ron Burnette introduced himself. He said all the problems in Kitimat are the result of numbers as you cannot support the same services with 7,000 people that you could support with 15,000 people. He said the answer was economic development.

Jim Thom said Kitimat was expecting a big boom and could not lose health care or education. He said of the two, education was most important. De Jong agreed that education was more important than health care as: “the better educated you are, the healthier you are.”

“The health care budget, in the short time that I have been in government, in the last ten years has gone from 8 billion dollars to 16 billion dollars. We have some tough decisions to make because if I had a preference whether to continue to raise health care spending at that rate verses additional dollars for early learning, I know where my preference is, but we have a very serious conversation to have with British Columbians as to what that looks like. The health care budget has doubled and I am regularly accused of being part of a government that has cut health care,” said De Jong.

Paul Chiina pointed out Kitimat supports the NDP because the Liberals have not supported the community. He said people should not point the finger until they have looked at themselves in the mirror. De Jong said if a community wanted to pursue a beneficial project, the government should get out of the way or assist. The decision however has to come from the community.

He asked what the priority was and what they would have to work with the community for. “For all the challenge this community has faced; for all the struggle, for all the frustration, never mind the results of the last election, how many people bothered to vote?” asked De Jong.

A majority of the people in the room raised their hand. He said half the people in the province did not bother to vote. With that, he put Mayor Joanne Moanghan on the spot to speak about the upcoming projects in Kitimat.

She said every time they go to the government, they get a run around. This has taken place during her two years as Mayor. She said there were five different companies trying to ship out of the Eurocan Wharf which West Fraser has been sitting on for the last two years.

She said Pytrade was investing $300,000,000 in Kitimat. She explained the details of the project (which were explained at the last council meeting). She said there was an entrepreneur who wished to build a conference centre but was being held up because the First Nations have title to the land.

She expressed they needed a protocol with the First Nations in Kitimat Village and there is a first draft for it. De Jong told Mayor Joanne Monaghan he has two prerequisites for government help. The first was it had to be a worthwhile project. The second was it had to be the top project or one of the top 3.

Monaghan said a majority of these projects were from private money listing the wharf and protocol as top plans. They were not asking for anything but leverage. De Jong asked if these were the top projects.

This sparked a point about the development happening in Kitimat with hospital services moving to Terrace and schools closing. It was suggested moving public commodities from the wharf was very important.

Ron Burnette brought up the Pacific Gateway Project and how Kitimat often gets ignored other than a mention in the odd press release. “Enbridge is proposing to come through Kitimat not because of anything that we did or anybody did, it’s simply the shortest route for the oil,” said Burnette.

De Jong asked how the community felt about Enbridge. The response was divided. Someone expressed that the community would be less divided if Enbridge was shipping out finished products rather than crude oil.

Burnette pointed out Enbridge provided an opportunity to build a highway from Kitimat to Houston and cut 160 kilometres to Prince George. This would save 300 km on a round trip and the infrastructure would be there.

Bill Eynon made a suggestion as to how the government could help Kitimat with the wharf and De Jong stated he is hesitant with any idea which starts with ‘you should do something on your own’ vs ‘we should do something together.’

When mining was discussed De Jong stated, “I think that as a premier, and as a province, we should commit ourselves to something that hasn’t happened in 10 years and I’m embarrassed about it. We have not opened a new mine,”

He said mines represent developing infrastructure, economic development and jobs that pay family sustaining wages. He suggested committing to opening the best possible mine in the province within 18 months.

When the HST was brought up, Dejong stated people had earned the right to vote claiming the vote date should be moved up. He said it should be done electronically or by mailed in ballots to avoid a $30,000,000 cost adding he felt the HST was a preferable tax and will vote in favour of it. He said the consequences will include sending money back to Ottawa as it was difficult to get money from Ottawa.

He said it was the ultimate political sin to surprise people. He said he learned there was a huge price to pay for it and Campbell paid the ultimate price. He said a new model will involve a discussion with British Columbians.