With just over three weeks remaining in the 2015 federal election campaign, candidates are criss-crossing one of Canada’s largest ridings, vying to represent Skeena-Bulkley Valley in the next Canadian Parliament. This riding, covering nearly one-quarter of British Columbia, reaches from Rivers Inlet to the Yukon border and from Haida Gwaii and the Alaska Panhandle nearly halfway across the province – more than 323,000 square kilometres and nearly the size of Norway.
It has been represented in Ottawa by New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Nathan Cullen for the past 11 years and was recently altered to include the entire Bella Coola Valley.
The Coast Mountain News presented the candidates in each of the parties seeking election with the following questions:
What is the most important issue in this election for voters in Skeena-Bulkley Valley?
What can be done to address the severe economic condition of the Bella Coola/Central Coast region?
If elected, what will you do to address this concern?
Since the elimination of BC Ferries Route #40 two years ago, the restoration of a suitable marine link in the Discovery Coast Circle has been of great concern in our region. If elected, what will you do to address this concern?
Why should a voter in the Bella Coola Valley vote for you?
Do you plan to visit the Central Coast and Bella Coola Valley during this campaign?
Paraphrases of their responses (in alphabetical order) follow:
Nathan Cullen (New Democratic Party)
The economy is the main issue in “a change election”. Voters need to elect a government that understands the northwest and can help economically. We need to ask: “What kind of change do we want.”
The region’s economic problems can be addressed by creating “value-added” industries that build on the region’s natural wealth. Transportation and communication improvements (particularly improved internet and cell-phone service) would benefit business development.
The federal subsidy to British Columbia for operating ferries on the Central and North Coast needs to be “taken back” from Victoria, and BC Ferries needs a “shakeup” so that they look at service on the whole coast and not only in the more populous South.
In his 11 years as Member of Parliament, Cullen says he has spent a lot of time in the Bella Coola Valley and sees himself as a “partner and ally” of a community that has “been neglected by a series of governments”.
Brad Layton (Liberal Party)
The economy is the most important issue, followed closely by environmental concerns.
These can be addressed by “finding our strengths and weaknesses”, particularly by improving communications through better internet and cell-phone services. Such infra-structure improvements, along with enhancing skills and training, housing, and First Nations concerns and are high priorities – especially in a riding where 33% of the population and 29% of the voters are First Nations people.
There is a need to meet with local governments and First Nations and to pursue “green technology”, creating value-added businesses to build on the potential once better infrastructure is in place. More than a plan is needed: The steps to be taken need to be identified.
A marine link in the Circle Tour through Bella Coola is necessary for the tourism industry, and the federal and provincial governments need to work on eliminating the hurdles in order to re-establish suitable ferry service.
Layton says he has an advantage representing the region in Ottawa because he is “not a professional politician” and that he is a hard worker who will be “in touch” with people across the riding, representing all of its citizens.
Tyler Nesbitt (Conservative Party)
The most important issue is the economy. Addressing this entails creating jobs by keeping taxes low and encouraging investment in areas such as responsible resource development that will allow for that job growth to happen. Massive tax increases on people and businesses will harm economic and job growth prospects.
Nesbitt says the Liberals and NDP are proposing new CPP, EI and business taxes on all Canadians. They also want to force a national carbon tax on the provinces that will increase the cost of gas and groceries while doing nothing to address climate change. “That is the exact opposite of what we should do right now given the economic instability across the globe,” he says.
If elected, Nesbitt pledges to “continue to fight for measures that will grow the economy and create jobs in our region. I will not support job-killing tax increases that grow the size of government in Ottawa but harm the local economies of the communities in Skeena-Bulkley Valley.”
With respect to regional ferry service, Nesbitt notes that while the service receives an annual federal subsidy, BC Ferries are a provincial matter. He hopes to visit the area during the campaign and would like to discuss the issue with local residents.
Jeannie Parnell (Green Party)
Proposals for large-scale projects such as pipelines, mining, and other industries, particularly along the Highway 16 corridor, are the most pressing concern. Instead, economic development can be addressed best by job creation through small business, creating jobs locally through efforts such as community gardens and local food systems.
As MP, Parnell would work closely with Bella Coola residents to come up with solutions to both economic development and restoration of suitable ferry service, which she describes as “an essential service”. She sees this as an “opportunity” for Central Coast residents to “purchase their own vessel” – perhaps in a partnership arrangement.
“I think voters need to vote for who will take the time to really look into the economic reality of Bella Coola and come up with some solutions,” she says. As a community developer, Parnell says she knows how to access funding, “working with the people and supporting them.”
Donald Spratt (Christian Heritage Party)
The most important issue is “whether our children and grandchildren live free and prosperous under ‘God and the rule of law’, or live and die under secular humanist tyranny”. He says Canada’s Christian heritage is “threatened by a lawless ‘multiculturalism’.”
He believes “that God is grieved with Canada, especially with our government”, and that “all the other candidates. . . say abortion and same-sex marriage are settled law, and therefore we ‘extremists’ should just fold our tents and go away, so they can focus on ‘important issues’ like jobs and the economy, the environment, or national security.”
Spratt says he is unfamiliar with Bella Coola, so there “is no point in making specific promises”. He adds: “It certainly makes sense to me that you need the restoration of a ferry or some marine link to your community.”
He says Bella Coola voters should vote for him because he is “not a man of empty words”.
Brief biographies follow:
Nathan Cullen, originally from Toronto, was a community economic development consultant in Central and South America in the 1990’s before settling in Smithers where he started a private consulting business in 1998 focussing on strategic planning and conflict resolution. He entered politics with his election as NDP Member of Parliament in 2004 and has been re-elected three times. In 2012 he was unsuccessful in his bid to lead the federal NDP, and served most recently as the Opposition Finance Critic. Maclean’s Magazine named him Most Knowledgeable Parliamentarian last year.
Brad Layton, of Telkwa, has lived and worked as a forest technician in the Bulkley Valley since 1987. Currently Vice-President of Operations for Pro-Tech Forest Resources Ltd, he has just begun his second term as a Telkwa Village councillor. As a forester, he has been been instrumental in developing the current forest health management strategies, and he believes Canada’s natural resource sectors can be world leaders in innovation and sustainability.
His experience on Telkwa Village Council provides him with an understanding of the unique and diverse needs of the vast regions that make up the riding of Skeena-Bulkley Valley.
Tyler Nesbitt was born and raised in Prince Rupert and now lives in Terrace where he works as a construction manager for the Nechako Group of Companies. After receiving his Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the University of British Columbia he moved back to the Northwest to work and raise a family.
Nesbitt wants to work hard for the people of the Northwest to ensure that his children and other parents’ children will have the opportunity to find high-paying, long-term careers right here in the beautiful Northwest. He believes that families are stronger when they are together.
Believing in responsible resource development, Nesbitt strongly supports making a Northwest LNG industry a reality.
Jeannie Parnell is from the Stellaten First Nation near Prince Rupert. She graduated from SFU’s Community Economic Development program in 2006 and has been working in Community Development since. After five years as a lifestyle counsellor with Vancouver Coastal Health, she moved on to work as a patient advocate with the Provincial Health Authority. One of her Community Development success stories is with Vancouver Native Health – an intergenerational garden project known as the Tu’wusht Project, which provides Downtown Eastside residents with an opportunity to learn how to grow vegetables and cook with harvested vegetables at a University of BC farm. In 2014 Parnell was also instrumental in establishing the Urban Smoke House in Prince Rupert.
Parnell wishes to make positive changes for residents in Skeena-Bulkely Valley by focussing on current social and economic issues such as poverty, healthy living and education. These issues include the Highway of Tears and violence against women and families.
Donald Spratt, originally from Saskatchewan, has owned and operated various construction, sales and installation businesses, and has worked as a paramedic, business development manager, salesman and machinery operator at various times over the last 45 years. Since graduating from Full Gospel Bible College in 1973, he has served as a pastor, gospel singer, recording artist, Bible teacher, evangelist, missionary and in international humanitarian aid and development. He was ordained in 1981.
Since the late 1970’s, Spratt has been a Christian human and civil rights activist working for the release of persecuted pastors and dissidents in the former Soviet Union and other communist nations. He became increasingly active in the mid-1980s defending the pre-born and the traditional family, helping found and publish Life Gazette Newspaper. He also organized lobby efforts to Ottawa on behalf of preborn children and has participated in many campaigns in support of moral and socially conservative issues. He has been repeatedly jailed for his activism.
He was nominated and ran for Surrey council in 1985 and 1986 with the Surrey Non-Partisan Association.
At press time, none of the five candidates was able to commit to visiting the Central Coast during the campaign. Results of the 2011 election follow: NDP: Nathan Cullen 55.3% (an increase of 5.5% over the 2008 election), Conservative: Clay Harmon 34.5% (a decrease of 1.9% over the 2008 election), Liberal: Kyle Warwick 3.6% (a decrease of 1.9% over the 2008 election), Green: Rogeer Benham 3.1% (a decrease of 1.5% over the 2008 election), Christian Heritage: Rod Taylor 3.0 (a decrease of 0.3% over the 2008 election), Canadian Action: Maggie Braun 0.5% (an increase of 0.2 over the 2008 election)
Note: At press time, it was not known if the Canadian Action Party had nominated a candidate for the October 19 election.