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Local issues laid out for Farnworth
The NDP MLA for Port Coquitlam came through the Cranbrook and Kimberley area on Wednesday, Feb. 4, on an information gathering trip in advance of the upcoming session of the B.C. Legislature and the government budget process.
Mike Farnworth, the Opposition Critic for Finance, hosted a breakfast at St. Eugene Golf Resort and Casino, to get some public input into what British Columbians want to see addressed in the budget.
"My job as critic is to get a better understanding of what people want to see in the budget," Farnworth said. "In this province especially, one size does not fit all. This is a province of regions, with different issues and challenges. If we're going to have a strong economy, we're going to have to take notice of what's going in the different regions."
Farnworth, who is widely considered to be the frontrunner for the upcoming BC NDP leadership contest, was in the company of Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald. The breakfast was attended by representatives of local city governments, chambers of commerce and financial institutions, as well as representatives of small businesses, the Kimberley Food Bank and Fort Steele. Kathryn Teneese was there on behalf of the Ktunaxa Nation.
Farnworth said he was looking for a sense of the challenges and opportunities different regions are facing, and things government is doing to spark activity.
Certain trends were discussed, among them the difficulty of attracting investment in local businesses. Mike Guarnery, manager of the Kimberley Chamber of Commerce, said it was important to "make people aware that these are communities worth investing in, and over the long-term to support our long-term goals." Guarnery said a recent business survey indicated an influx of new residents from larger urban areas to the Kimberley area, as well as many young families moving back to the region.
And while it was acknowledged that business, particularly small business, was the backbone of local economic infrastructure, economics could not be separated from social issues.
Diane Baher, with the Cranbrook and District Chamber of Commerce, noted that there are a lot of entrepreneurs in Cranbrook — "Cranbrook is a self-employed town," she said. She added that there was an influx of seniors moving to Cranbrook, largely because of the regional hospital. "It is important not to let our eyes stray from the fact that there are three-, four-, five-hour wait times at emergency."
Farnworth wanted to hear more about the key social infrastructure and economic infrastructure needs and gaps. Cranbrook City Councillor and Acting Mayor Sharon Cross listed several of the challenges Cranbrook is facing. These included health care issues — "there must be a way to encourage the medical profession to move to Cranbrook and stay here," she said. "Finding creative solutions in the health care system is essential." Local affordable child care is an issue, she added, and the deer cull is an ongoing, divisive topic — "We're looking for more tools (from the province) to address the problem," she said.
Housing is a huge concern in Cranbrook, Cross said. "We have a number of facilities that house low-income, seniors, the disabled and the at-risk. But the waiting lists are twice as long as we can accommodate."
Cross said Cranbrook is also looking for solar and alternative energy initiatives, that could also serve as economic generators — a community greenhouse was one such example.
Kimberley Mayor Ron McRae talked about the challenges and successes Kimberley has had transitioning from a mining town to a more diversified community, with an emphasis on tourism. The replacement of the Mark Creek flume is an ongoing challenge, he said, particularly in terms of getting funding.
Kathryn Teneese spoke about the need to think broadly, in terms of the region as a whole, rather than just community by community.
"It was really useful to get a sense of the broad picture but also the issues that are important to people," Farnworth told the Townsman after the session. He reflected on the need for economic diversification in the smaller communities, and the province as a whole. "The province is making a big deal around LNG," he said. "Certainly LNG is a big opportunity — but at the same time we need to make sure all those components that make up a diversified economy are getting the attention they need, whether it's tourism, technology, the service sector, mining or forestry, you name it. Because there isn't a silver bullet, one thing that's going to suddenly give us the revenue we need. It's diversity that will do that."
Farnworth said he's also looking forward to an interesting session of the Legislature, which begins February 11. "It's been a long time since we've had a session. I'm looking forward to a very full session," he said. "I imagine there will be a fair bit of legislation, there will be the budget — we'll be scrutinizing that. We'll be doing our job as opposition, being able to hold the government to account for its actions, and, just as important, its statements. It's been saying an awful lot of things, and the question is, is there action happening?"
Farnworth was asked when members of his party are going to start stepping forward to contest the NDP leadership, replacing Adrian Dix. Farnworth at this point would be considered a frontrunner. "I still think its a little ways away," Farnworth said with a smile. "It's in September, so there's plenty of time."