An impassioned Premier Christy Clark spoke to a gathering of about 50 Columbia Valley women on a range of topics at the Lions’ Club in Invermere on Tuesday (July 28). At the Women’s Town Hall organized by the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce (CVCC) Women in Business Committee, all eyes were glued on the most powerful woman in the province as soon as she walked into the room and began moving from table to table, introducing herself with a hearty handshake and dazzling smile to as many women as possible before taking to the podium for her formal presentation.
Her message was clear, and her energy and anecdotal sense of humour were infectious, despite having had already spoken to constituents in Revelstoke and Golden earlier that day.
“We don’t have a democratic process if people don’t believe their government listens to them,” Clark emphatically told the room, “because if people don’t believe their government listens to them, then people don’t believe their government represents them.”
Re-establishing trust, both federally and provincially, and particularly in her own party, is the job politicians are faced with today, she said, and evoked laughter from the audience by openly admitting that “I don’t think the whole HST debate did us a whole lot of good, frankly.”
“That experience has stayed in people’s hearts,” said Clark, noting that even those who agreed with the HST opposed the government’s lack of consultation with British Columbians. “One of the things I wanted to accomplish in getting back into politics was to try and find ways to re-establish that connection with people because it really matters that people feel like they are connected to their provincial government.”
One of the ways she’s trying to bridge the gap is to meet with groups that are almost exclusively women when she travels around the province because she finds that women talk differently when given this opportunity.
“I also, though, want to make sure I’m hearing what women have to say,” she said because women, as the lynchpins of families — which she said were defined in any number of ways, either same-sex marriages, single parents or close knit communities of friends — play a vital role in the success of any community, province and country.
“Family is the single, most important building block of any successful community,” Clark said. “We cannot succeed as communities or as a province or as a country, if families aren’t successful.”
Her decision to re-enter politics after establishing herself as a successful columnist and radio show host was inspired by her desire to make British Columbia a better place for families. In her opinion, she said, raising children to be good citizens is the most important job in the world.
“Instilling character, giving them your values, teaching them morals that will carry them through for the rest of their lives, that is the hardest job in the world, that is the hardest job that anybody does in any society,” she said, pointing out that people naturally do a better job as a parent when there is no stress around paying the mortgage or putting food on the table.
Effortlessly segueing into a discussion on the economy, Clark said she can try to make it easier for families to get along in life by enabling a thriving private sector economy in which people can easily find jobs with which to support their loved ones.
“When I say I care about families, I also mean I care about the economy, the two are inextricably linked,” she said. “When the economy is thriving, communities are doing better.”
Communities across B.C., including the Columbia Valley, stand to benefit from the liquified natural gas sector — her number one priority. With an energy capacity equal to that contained in Alberta’s oil sands, B.C.’s natural gas stands to become a trillion and a half dollar industry by 2020.
“It’s going to have an impact all throughout the Columbia Valley and in every other part of the province,” Clark told the gathering. “It’s an incredible opportunity for us here in this province.”
It’s safer for the environment, too, she pointed out, as liquefied natural gas simply evaporates if there is a leak, unlike heavy oil, which is why B.C. must see benefits for education, infrastructure and health care if pipelines like the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project are going to happen.
“I’ve had some lonely meetings with all the other premiers in Halifax getting mad at me because I didn’t just say, gee you can put your pipeline through British Columbia,” she said, referring to the annual Council of the Federation meeting that she walked out of last week, making headlines right across the country because she won’t support a national energy strategy that doesn’t address concerns about moving heavy oil across B.C. and its coastlines.”We’re going to have to make sure we’re protecting our environment as a top priority before that pipeline is going to have a chance at going through British Columbia.”
B.C. currently has the second-best job creation record in the country, said Clark, with 61,000 new jobs, of which almost all are full time. Yet while more families are working today than a few years ago, she said she understands this statistic is not equally felt in all communities.
“Some are thriving, some still struggling,” she said. “Economic development needs to flow throughout the province.”
Acknowledging the Women’s Town Hall event was non-partisan and that she was there to share her BC Liberal party’s views, Clark opened the floor to questions, which touched on a range of topics, from health care issues and daycare, to the carbon tax and workforce demographics, to the lack of basic economics training in the K to 12 public education system.
“Is there anything that can be done to look at introducing some sort of core subject that addresses the need for family finance, budgeting, economics 101 in some sort of plain language so that… people can make more informed choices about their vocation, jobs, expected rates of pay and things like that?” asked one audience member.
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” said Clark, whose father was a teacher. “In our education system, we spend all of our time having a debate between adults about what’s right for the adults in the system and we spend precious little thinking about what’s good for the children.”
Fights between the teachers’ union and the government are always about money and conditions of work, she said, which leaves precious little time for the conversations they should be having.
“I think we should be thinking about how to make sure the best teacher, the right teacher, is in front of the right group of kids, teaching the right subject,” said Clark. Without an individualized education plan for every child that incorporates basic economics throughout the already established curriculum, B.C. is bound to fall behind, she said. Retooling the education system so that students were job-ready upon graduation if they so choose would also help retain the staggering 20 per cent of children who drop out of high school without graduating.
“A disproportionate number of those are First Nation kids,” she said. “It is absolutely wrong.”
“We are in a global talent by the way,” Clark went on, noting that B.C. — even with 100 per cent employment — has only two thirds of the people needed for the one million job openings forecasted for the next ten years. “If we can’t even make sure we are growing our own talent to its fullest potential, we are going to lose.”
To this end, encouraging in-migration across Canada as well as immigration from around the world is also key as immigrants stand to make a huge contribution, she said.
On tourism, a subject particularly dear to those present, Clark said a provincial tourism marketing strategy to replace Tourism BC was underway, and that the doubling of B.C.’s trade presence in Asia, particularly in China, would be instrumental in helping access the biggest growing middle class in the world.
“They’ve got money to spend and we want them to spend it here,” she said, and in response to concerns that Vancouver and Whistler had taken control of the spotlight, acknowledged that marketing work had to be done to link the Canadian Rockies and Kootenays to B.C.’s reputation as an international tourist destination.
After a standing ovation and flurry of photographs, in a private interview with The Valley Echo the premier further elaborated on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project vis-a-vis the national energy strategy, and also commented on the local hot topic — Jumbo Glacier Resort.
Essentially, in her mind, discussion on a national energy strategy when Alberta and the federal government are unwilling to even start a conversation about the proposed Enbridge pipeline across northern British Columbia is pointless.
“If we’re going to sign a document that says we’re going to do something, we should actually be making it real on the ground, and so that’s my issue with the national energy strategy, Alberta isn’t even coming to the table,” Clark told The Echo and, leaning forward, said with powerful conviction: “The federal government will not ever, ever be able to force this pipeline through British Columbia without our consent, I guarantee you that. Yes, technically they might have the levers to do it. It will never happen.
As for Jumbo, the premier said that while the Province gave its approval, it’s up to the private sector to make it economically viable.
“This sat around government for twenty years, and nobody had the temerity to make a decision, and when the decision hit my desk, I said, ‘For goodness sake, it’s been two decades, we are going to make a decision,’ and that’s what we did,” she said. “(But) it’s their call, it’s their investment.”
The premier received a personal thanks from Bonnie Bavin, from Bavin Glassworks in Invermere, for coming to the valley to meet with the group. Bavin told The Echo that while the timeframe of the meeting didn’t allow for Clark to address issues in-depth, she appreciated there was the ability to give input.
“I think anytime we get a premier in this part of the province, it’s always a great thing, just the fact that they get to see where we come from,” said Bavin, “and it was also great to have a meeting with just women.”
Invermere resident Kim Harris, whose husband suffers from a brain injury, went to the event to raise the issue of a brain injury rehabilitation facility in B.C. with the premier. She said that while her campaign wasn’t really addressed, she didn’t expect it to be because the meeting was more business-oriented, which she quite enjoyed.
“[Clark] is a fantastic public speaker, she’s very good, she’s too the point, she knew all her stuff, and I could quite frankly see people changing their vote if they met her in person for the next election,” Harris said. “She did bring up some interesting points about Enbridge, our resources in British Columbia, her thoughts on education, and you saw a lot of head nodding in the room.”