Residents of B.C.’s North and Interior are upset about doctor shortages, emergency room closures, crime and rising unaffordability because they are seeing oversized impacts in their communities and in their way of life, according to the province’s Opposition leader.
BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said he concluded an 11-day tour of Williams Lake, Quesnel, Prince George, Terrace, Kitimat, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John last week with a renewed appreciation for the challenges people in rural and remote communities face, compared to the Lower Mainland.
He spoke with Northern Beat about his trip.
Q: Why did you go on this trip?
Falcon: I went up there because I want to get out and about and talk to people in every part of the province. Listen to what’s happening to workers and just regular folks who are going about their days, and as I engage in those discussions, there are some common themes that really become apparent. The health care crisis is number one. Affordability, I would say is number two. And crime would be number three. Those are the ones that really stuck out for me, and were just a common concern that was raised.
Q: How do those concerns differ in the interior and North from, say, Metro Vancouver?
Falcon: When you come from smaller communities, these issues become far more real. Folks in the Lower Mainland… even with a stressed healthcare system, it will never feel quite as horrible as it does in smaller communities, where the kind of delays that people would light their hair on fire in the Lower Mainland about are just everyday delays that people are used to in northern and rural communities.
So when they start complaining about health care, you know it’s really serious, because they already have a very high tolerance level for inefficiency and poor service levels.
I think it was probably best summed up by a family physician in Williams Lake who has been practicing for 41 years… he’s never seen things as bad as they are today. That encapsulated virtually everything I heard, in varying degrees, whether it was in Williams Lake, or Quesnel, Prince George, Terrace, Kitimat, Dawson Creek, or Fort St. John. It really is very, very serious.
Q: Are there unique solutions you heard for those communities for things like recruitment?
Falcon: Everything I heard – from not just members of the community, but actually from some physicians and frontline health care workers – reinforced exactly the direction we want to go. Which is, first of all, the government needs to deal with this with a sense of urgency.
I heard about doctors that are planning on leaving in Williams Lake. I heard about doctors planning on leaving Quesnel and Prince George. This is a really, really serious crisis. And I just don’t get any sense of urgency (from government).
On crime, because crime is in many cases related to mental health and addiction issues… and we just have to accept that responsibility, (and) understand that we cannot keep allowing our mentally ill to be left to their own devices on the streets to be exploited and abused.
I intend to invest upfront in proper 24/7 mental health facilities that can help look after those folks that can’t look after themselves. And I heard enormous support for that real dramatic shift in direction.
Q: But in doing that, do you not also have to confront the thorny question of involuntary care?
Falcon: Absolutely. We have to tackle it head on. And we have to recognize that there are some folks, who, through no fault of their own, are incapable of making decisions in their own best interest. We have a societal obligation to make sure that somebody is looking out for their interests. And while it would involve involuntary care, it would also be premised on trying to ensure that we can, once we get them … in a position where they’re stable and their health conditions have been medically stabilized, then we can look to focus on getting them back into the community with proper supports.
Right now, what’s happening under this NDP government is they are warehousing the mentally ill into motels and hotels that they are vastly overpaying for, and they’re not providing the proper support, even though they promised the community they will be. And these folks are creating a huge amount of social disorder and chaos. And they’re a danger not just themselves, but increasingly, to others. We see that every day on the streets.
Q: What about Site C? I see that you stopped there (for a tour July 28).
Falcon: While I was up in the Peace country, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, a couple of things really stood out to me. Two of the most significant capital projects in the history of British Columbia, one is the LNG Coastal GasLink pipeline and LNG Canada facility – (which) is still, I believe, the largest single private sector investment in Canada taking place – and the other is Site C.
Now, unfortunately, due to poor mismanagement, frankly, from the NDP government and the board they appointed, has resulted in the situation where the Site C project has gone from an $8.2 billion to a $16 billion budget.
Both of those are projects that would never have been underway and getting built if the NDP was in power at the time. That really struck home to me while I was up there, because these are hugely important projects right now — Site C, because it’s going to provide a huge generational benefit, especially as we continue to see expansion in electric vehicles, and LNG because it’s going to be hugely important in a very fractious, uncertain world that is desirous of having a secure supply of LNG from a country that sustainably produces it, and can help the world transition off of dirty coal.
Neither of those projects would have gone ahead if the NDP were in power at the time because they opposed both of them tooth and nail. They finally let them go ahead because they were so far advanced. It’s a stark reminder to British Columbians that government is about leadership. And leadership is about making those big bold decisions that are going to have generational impact.
Q: You also met with Coastal GasLink (July 19 in Prince George). Did the company have anything to say to you in terms of what it would want your government to do to help them getting that pipeline built amidst the continued protests they are facing?
Falcon: Well, they were very diplomatic, but I will be less so. I was very clear to them, that should Kevin Falcon become premier this province, they can look forward to having a government that will actually make sure that they’ve got security (resources) to prevent a very small minority of fanatical protesters/terrorists that are interfering.
(We will) pay a very heavy price for the kind of interference that they have been subjected to on that project. This sends a very bad message around the world that British Columbia is a very risky place to do business to have these environmental terrorists and reactionaries… threatening workers and attacking them in the most appalling possible way.
At the same time, the government has seen cabinet ministers literally attending their blockades and handing over lunches and playing footsie with people that, frankly, are working entirely against the interests of mainstream British Columbians.
That has to stop, and it will under a Kevin Falcon government.
Q: You also discussed forestry and logging in 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Quesnel, that’s an enormously complex issue but do you have any thoughts on what you heard?
Falcon: The common theme, not just in forestry, but everything, is the tremendous uncertainty that’s been created where the government is just not issuing permits. And there’s a huge amount of fear and uncertainty on the land base. The government is afraid to make decisions, they are paralyzed with fear and indecision about what to do in terms of issuing permits on the land base. I just think that it’s a sad abdication of leadership.
Q: Anything else you heard during your trip?
Falcon: On crime… I’ll tell you, this is a real problem. I’m up in the Interior right now, and the Metro Kelowna area … just reported it has the highest rate of criminal activity in the country right now. Which is not a position I’m sure they are proud to hold. But it is a common theme, that over the last five years, we have seen a dramatic rise in criminal activity and the kind of social chaos that is making people feel very unsafe in their own communities.
We see it every day, of course, down in the Lower Mainland. But the real challenge is the prolific offenders that David Eby has refused to deal with. He’s been the Attorney General since day one – this lands right on his porch.
I’ll give you one example. When I was in Terrace… one individual, the mayor and council told me when I met with them, has had 422 interactions with the RCMP last year alone. These small groups of people create a huge amount of social chaos and fear in communities. And yet we have a government and attorney general that has refused to deal with these folks. And it is really creating fear in communities. And, I’ll tell you, that’s in every community. Every single one I was visiting, I heard the same thing.
Interview edited for length and clarity.