As the year draws to a close it is an opportunity to assess the last 12 months and look forward to the coming year. There have been good moments for our communities but on the whole many people have faced ongoing struggles while the BC Liberal government ignored the real needs of our province.
The ongoing mismanagement of our marine highway stands out as one of the fiascos of the year. Despite a major report that showed that the provincial economy as a whole has lost more than $2 billion because of the quasi-privatization of BC Ferries, the government did nothing. Increasing fares have driven down ridership and are crippling our coastal economies. Tourism has been severely damaged. Port Hardy, for example, has seen a huge drop in numbers of visitors with the loss of the Central Coast route and severe cuts to the Prince Rupert run. And after months during which myself and others kept demanding the removal of the fuel surcharge as oil prices plummeted, it was finally dropped. But this is cold comfort for ferry users. What really needs to happen is a rollback of fares to ease the financial strain for commuters and to kick-start all our coastal economies. And I promise you I will continue pushing for that as a top priority in 2015.
The year has been energetic for forestry, still one of our core industries, but as always there is the sad irony that the logs are rolling out of our communities and passing empty mill sites. Even the Neucel mill in Port Alice ended the year on a two month shut down.
Campbell River is starting to see the first signs of the boom that will develop with many years of work at the John Hart Generating Station and subsequent work on the dams. But the BC government’s ideological approach to BC Hydro has led to massive rate hikes for all users. Unlike some parts of the province, we in this region have little choice but to rely on hydro. According to BC Hydro, my community office has among the most people in the province asking for help because they are facing disconnection. These are people who have to choose between food or heat for their homes. This is simply wrong. BC Hydro provided my office with a handful of kits to help people save some energy but while this may help one or two families it does not deal with the reality confronting many people.
The groundbreaking for our new regional hospital in Campbell River occurred in the summer but we are a long way from dealing with other serious health care concerns of our communities – including long wait times for surgery, access to doctors, closures of emergency rooms or full utilization of our ambulance paramedics.
This year saw the bitter teachers’ dispute resolved and schools reopen. But teachers are wary about how the needs in the classrooms will be dealt with. School boards are being asked to repay money they received while the schools were shut and parents are still being asked to fundraise for basic school supplies.
And while all this was going on, Christy Clarke and the BC Liberals continued to claim that LNG will bring a financial bonanza making life wonderful in BC. But when given the opportunity to set the parameters in legislation, the government provided an extremely low tax regime for the companies exploiting our resource and enacted very weak environmental controls on emissions from extraction of the gas through to its export.
Next year we know that MSP rates are going up again, as are hydro rates. Ferry fares will be up by 4% in April and other costs will continue to rise. The BC Liberals could change course and work for everyone in BC, but their record doesn’t give cause for hope. They do know what to say but what they do is very different.
But I am an optimist so I would like to hope that next year will bring change, with a focus on the needs of our communities. It could start with cuts in ferry fares, reversing hydro rate increases, ensuring health care happens for all of us and that in our rich economy teachers don’t have to worry about making sure their students have a meal before entering the classroom.
For now though, I would like to wish everyone a very good Christmas and a hopeful 2015.
My offices will be closed from 23rd December to 5th January and email and voicemail will not be checked during that time. If you have an urgent need please contact Enquiries BC (1-800-663-7867) who will put you in touch with either the relevant government department or my Victoria office.