BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson was in Fort St. John Wednesday to meet with business leaders and party supporters, and visit local industry.
Wilkinson spoke to the Fort St. John Chamber of Commerce during a lunch meeting about to talk about the future of the Peace River region in B.C. Two consistent issues raised by locals is the need for a more responsive government in Victoria, and closing the tax gap and competitiveness with Alberta, Wilkinson said.
"We all hear these mutterings about how the Peace isn't really destined to be part of British Columbia — it's on the east side of the Rockies, sometimes there's a different time zone, and Costco is in Grande Prairie — but it's very important the Peace country feel like it's an integral part of British Columbia, with a future here" Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson took aim at the "media saturation" in the Lower Mainland for amplifying and distorting opposition against the country's oil and gas industry despite market realities increasing demand for their products.
Residents in Metro Vancouver are living in a "media bubble," Wilkinson said, and residents in the Peace need to speak up and be heard about the industries that sustain their work and way and life. Canada's industry has been successful, continues to attract global investment, and leads the world in productivity, technology, and environmental protection, he said.
"It's unacceptable that anyone talks down to you," Wilkinson said.
"You know what you're doing, you're very good at what you do, and you deserve the respect of being able say, 'We're going to live this life, we're going to do it well.'"
Wilkinson was joined by Peace River MLAs Dan Davies and Mike Bernier, as well as Greg Kyllo (Shuswap) and Ellis Ross (Skeena). He had a tour of Site C dam construction, and visited the North Pine Farmers Institute during his visit in Fort St. John before travelling to Dawson Creek.
Alaska Highway News sat down with Wilkinson after his address to the Chamber to talk about the Trans Mountain pipeline, caribou recovery, the BC Conservatives, the federal election, and more.
On B.C.'s Trans Mountain pipeline challenge:
"Having been a lawyer for 25 years, I wait to see the reasons of the court, and it's hard to predict their decision. That's what they're there for. It's very hard to say (what the courts will decide) in that the courts will have a whole array of arguments before them. It's an unusually large, five-judge panel at the BC Court of Appeal, and you can get five different sets of reasons, or you can get one or two, and we'll have to wait and see what they have to say.
"Unfortunately, these things tend to drag out over years and that's part of the problem in Canada. We have uncertainty of decision-making because of the long time it takes to go through the courts."
On caribou recovery:
"The mountain caribou issue was grossly mishandled by the NDP, and they've appointed Blair Lekstrom to try and fix the mess that they've made, and we look forward to his report in the next few days to try and put the genie back in the bottle because they failed to consult the communities of the Peace.
"It's hard to say (how it will affect the next election) because the mountain caribou issue has resonated all throughout the Cariboo and through the Kootenays as well. The high-handed behaviour of the NDP has really come home, and John Horgan is going to have to do an awful lot of explaining all along Highway 97 throughout British Columbia.
"The federal government under SARA (the Species At Risk Act) requires the provinces to take action, or the federal government can step in. So, what the NDP did was to try to do something secretly and then inform the public after the fact, and that didn't work. They should have done this in a much more open way from the beginning."
On the Peace region economy:
"Farming as a traditional industry in the Peace is very steady and durable, and I think that is be something that will carry on indefinitely.
"The forestry industry is going through a lot of changes in terms of markets and pricing, so the provincial government needs to optimize those opportunities in the Peace so that it becomes a bother steady, durable industry, rather than something that's been so volatile.
"In terms of oil and gas, this is a huge opportunity in the Peace country with the right lower level of taxes to keep these industries based here, with all the skills and expertise that comes with it.
That's the challenge: to build the petroleum industry in British Columbia when it's so easy for it to come and go from Alberta."
On the Alberta tax advantage:
"The challenge we have is that the NDP put up corporate taxes in British Columbia, and Jason Kenney is about to drop them in Alberta, which means we lose a huge degree of competitiveness.
"They're already much lower in the United States courtesy of Donald Trump, so British Columbia has got a problem in terms of retaining corporate head offices and corporate activity at all, rather than have it moving to Alberta, or elsewhere, because of corporate taxes, employer health taxes, and excessive regulation.
"There's going to have to be a complete review of business taxation in British Columbia once the NDP are out of office because they have made a thorough mess of it."
On the BC Conservatives:
"It remains to be seen whether the Conservative Party will catch any traction in British Columbia. Certainly, the encounters I've had the last 24 hours in Fort St. John is that people are very committed to making the BC Liberals the next government in British Columbia.
"We have two very strong BC Liberal MLAs from the Peace, and we will strongly support them through the election. It will be up to Mr. Bolin to convince the people in the Peace that it's going to be useful to split the vote somehow because that could feel lead to another NDP government, which would be terrible for the Peace country."
On Terry Lake joining the federal Liberals:
"Terry's always been a man of his own mind, and makes his own decisions, and I respect that. We'll see what happens in the fall."
On the federal Conservative proposal for a national energy corridor:
"Given that British Columbia has a core role as a Pacific province in Canada, and that the Peace country is critical to British Columbia as an energy centre, it's not entirely clear to me what they mean by an energy corridor. But British Columbia would obviously have to be central to that."
On B.C.'s role in Canada's trade tensions with China:
"So far, British Columbia's ports have felt the brunt of the trade battle with China in terms of cancelled canola exports. That's having a significant effect in the Port of Vancouver. But, so far, we have otherwise avoided too much fallout. But there's an obvious risk of fallout when Vancouver airport has 75 flights a week to Greater China. If those are at risk, that means thousands of jobs would go down the drain. We have to look to the federal government, which has responsibility for this entire file, to do their best to sort it out."
Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at firstname.lastname@example.org.