Two-time North Coast NDP MLA Gary Coons was in Bella Coola last week to introduce the newest candidate for the riding, Jennifer Rice.
Coons, who confirmed several weeks ago that he would not be running in this year’s election, took this opportunity to speak with Bella Coola Valley residents about issues that are important to them, and in turn to give Rice the opportunity to connect to Bella Coola.
When asked whether or not this is the ‘end’ of his political career, Coons was frank. “I am going to stay politically engaged, especially with ferries,” he said. “I’m working closely with the BC Coastal Transportation Society and I plan to continue this work.”
Coons has made transportation via BC Ferries a focus of his work as an MLA, especially as an advocate for the residents of Haida Gwaii, who rely on the ferry system and are now paying a round-trip walk-on fare of $70 plus tax. Add a vehicle and the fare jumps to $126 for a one-way trip.
“Ferries are an extension of our highways,” said Coons. “But instead of being fairly funded by taxpayers, it’s been treated as a user-pay system. So now BC Ferries is in debt and many communities are underserviced as a result. It’s not an easy fix.”
When asked about the long-term viability of the Discovery Coast Passage Route to Bella Coola and our neighbouring communities, Coons was fairly optimistic the route would remain active. “It’s a vital link, especially for tourism,” Coons said. “You have people pushing for this route all the way from Williams Lake, and Bella Coola is a ferry-dependent community, even if you do have a road. BC Ferries is providing a service, it shouldn’t be about finances.”
As Coons moves on to other ventures, Prince Rupert City Councilor Jennifer Rice is eagerly awaiting her chance to take on North Coast issues. As the former chair for Friends of Wild Salmon, Rice has spent countless hours on one of the top issues on the Central and North Coast, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project. She also sits on the Ferries Advisory Committee, NW Regional Hospital District board, and as Alternate Director for the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District.
When questioned on her motivation to enter politics, Rice explained that, for her, advocacy is a perfect fit. “I really feel that advocacy is a role for me,” she said. “After sitting on council for so many years, you start to see that the local issues are really bigger and broader, and I would love the chance to address them at a provincial level.”
Rice, who is originally from Ottawa but has lived in Prince Rupert for over a decade, characterizes herself as ‘ambitious and determined,’ and feels like this is the right time in her life to take on the brand-new world of provincial politics.
Rice is pushing for a different approach to traditional politics, starting off with a conversation about which issues matter to local people.
“When I decided to take on the nomination I began calling people to ask them what issues were important to them,” she said. “The threat of Enbridge was at the top of the list. After that it was BC Ferries, and sustainable, local, resource and economic development. I’m looking forward to being a voice for people on these issues.”
The provincial election will be held on May 14, 2013. Campaigning is already underway, but the BC Liberals, the BC Green Party, and the BC Conservative Party have yet to announce their candidate for the North Coast.