She came, she spoke, she answered questions.
A confident Premier Christy Clark spoke to a room full of receptive women Monday in a Women’s Town Hall meeting at the Comfort Inn.
“One of most important things we can do in government is talk to each other, and the way to do that is to listen,” she said, noting she likes to invite women to meetings when she travels the province because women see things differently. “If we do want to change governments, we have to change the way they do things.”
Clark launched into her recent experience at a premier’s meeting in Halifax where she protested the proposed Enbridge pipeline.
“There are all kinds of environmental issues and we don’t have a spill response in B.C.,” she said, noting people from across the world visit this province because of the spectacular scenery and clean environment. “It has to meet the environmental review process and it has to get First Nations approval.”
Clark also insisted the project would have to provide benefits to the people of B.C.
“My fundamental premise is if we want parents to do the hardest job, raising kids, we have to provide jobs that can provide for families,” she said. “I’m not willing to take this risk in our province if we’re not gonna benefit by more jobs and more revenue so we can support health care and education.”
While she maintains the future of the Alberta pipeline may be in question, Clark said five pipelines are being built in northern B.C. to carry natural gas to the Coast for processing, before it is frozen and shipped to Asia.
Describing it as “a-trillion-and-a-half dollar industry,” Clark stressed the need to “continue to harvest the power of free enterprise, the power of the private sector.”
This prompted audience member Joan Sturdy to ask if the province has any plans for alternate energy.
Clark enthusiastically responded that since 2005, new incentives and policy changes have led to B.C. becoming the “third biggest cluster” of green energy anywhere in the world.
“I know the carbon tax is not popular outside of urban ares, but in its defence, it has been a large part of attracting people (experts) from all over the world,” she said. “We’re trying to sell our intellectual product and clean energy, and natural gas is a low-risk commodity to move, while bitumen is not, it’s the heaviest of the oils.”
Financial advisor Coralie Tolley expressed concerns about the number of families leaving the area and the potential for more to go without the creation of new jobs.
Clark responded that B.C. has the second best job-creation program in the country with 61,300 new jobs – most of them full-time.
She agreed that while bigger centres like Kelowna and Victoria are booming, smaller centres like Sicamous have experienced a decline over several years.
But she applauded the move by Twin Anchors, who following the 2008 economic crash, diversified beyond building houseboats to construct temporary accommodation.
“It will grow, there will be no end of appetite for their product,” said Clark. “I suspect they won’t be able to keep up with the product.”
As well, the premier noted bio energy needed to fuel the liquefied natural gas plants in the north will increase jobs across the province.
In response to a question about any influence the provincial government might have in addressing the effect new and more stringent federal regulations have on the housing and construction industry, Clark admitted that “when the feds decide they want to change the rules it’s almost entirely their purview.”
However, she noted her government is doing their best to mitigate the effects with a first-time homebuyer’s grant which will be in place next spring.
Her long-term goal, she said was in ratcheting down and eliminating taxes that add costs to already expensive houses.
Shuswap Daycare manager Karen Bubola took issue with the current two-year waitlist for families needing daycare, consistent funding cuts and poor pay that is driving well-trained prospective employees from the childcare field.
“It’s an area where we can do a lot better,” responded Clark. “I want to encourage you to be part of dialogue consultations that the government is doing on every topic at www.govtogether.bc.ca.
“There are a lot of those issues – not just availability – it’s a whole basket of issues.”
Mayor Nancy Cooper gave a plug to the Salmon Arm Industrial Park and its advantageous location on the Trans-Canada Highway and proximity to rail service.
She noted that many families have been separated by the need for the breadwinner to go north or elsewhere in order to get work.
“Separating families is not ideal, it comes with its own set of issues… Look at all the great businesses we have, but we’ve lost a few,” she said. “Is there ever a way you can encourage businesses to locate in smaller communities like Salmon Arm?”
While she handed that job back to Cooper as mayor, Clark said the province could help by training people closer to home so they could get the skills and jobs needed to remain in their own communities. To do this will require reworking the education system, she said.
“We spend $5.2 billion educating kids for 12 years and then say ‘go get more education,’” she said, noting 20 per cent of kids don’t even graduate from high school. “In one of the richest places in the world, that is a crying shame. Let’s educate them so they can go right into the workforce.”
Clark insisted her government plans to make sure the next generation can provide for the people they love.
“George has a great vision – individualized learning – what is it you want? What is it you’re passionate about? Surely we can do that in this high-tech society,” she said.
After the meeting, Clark dismissed recent polls and while she agreed there are things her government could be doing better, she believes voters will choose the Liberals next spring.
“I think people feel like they have not been listened to; there are lots of legitimate reasons…,” she said.
“When people really tune in, they will ask themselves do they want to carry on creating jobs in B.C. and see a natural gas opportunity of a lifetime come to fruition, or do they want to take a different path?”