Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Not a boast you'll see on the welcome sign at Butze Rapids

Well this latest bit of publicity won't do much to turn the tide of negativity around the Northwest these days. For those looking to move to our neck of the woods, the impressions generated by a recent magazine article will surely have folks turning their GPS in a more southerly direction.

Moneysense magazine has just completed its second annual survey of the most livable cities in Canada and for boosters of the Northwest, the findings won't be kind, or welcome but they will be found in the May edition of the magazine.
Of 154 cities surveyed by the magazine, Prince Rupert was listed in 149th place, 148 away from being considered the most livable, and but five away from being the least.

Only Terrace at 150, Williams Lake at 152, Campbell River at 153 and Port Alberni as number 154 rated worse results from British Columbia.
Last year Prince Rupert finished 111 out of 123 cities, however with increased entries in this years survey the north coast tumbled to the bottom of the list as the competition pool increased.

There were a number of different variables used in determining their figures, with High unemployment (12.4 %), a declining population (last at -12.5% ), reduced availability of discretionary income (23 %) a lack of new cars (8%) and of course the always topical weather (last place thanks to the rain both in number of days and total precipitation) combining for a portion of the low rating for Prince Rupert.
At the other end of the livability spectrum, Vancouver and Victoria made it into the top ten listings, with Vancouver claiming the number ten spot and Victoria pulling in at number two, just behind the overall winner Ottawa.

Leaving one to wonder if Moneysense's judges perhaps may rely on government funding in any form, such is the prominence given to "government" towns in the survey. One thing is certain however, we at least know who has the money needed for a subscription to the magazine and what their postal code may be.

The Vancouver Province featured a report on the listings in its Wednesday edition, while the full Moneysense review can be found here with the listings from 1 to 154 found here.

A flap no more, tourism banners fly in the downtown streets

"We really are fortunate to have such passionate volunteers," -- Mayor Herb Pond striving to calm the hurricane of slighted volunteer banner makers

Bannergate is all but over, the one time tempest now but a memory, as the children's and community banners take their place upon the light standards of the downtown area, ready to welcome tourists and residents alike.

In one of the more tempestuous weeks for the normally unflappable Mayor Pond, the anger of the artisans proved to be stronger that the call of bureaucracy, as the city relented on its tourism banner policy, no doubt a little humbled by the backlash from the public.

Using the always helpful mea culpa of poor communications, the Mayor outlined the steps that the city will take from now on in matters of these kind, suggesting that there will be a more consultative approach and we suspect hopefully one that won't have the Mayor having to face angry artists and their parents (not to mention electoral voters) just a little annoyed at the less than open and transparent methods of their decisions.

With the public pacified once again and the damage control complete, the Mayor praised the passion of those civic volunteers who only a week ago were ready to storm the doors to fly their flags. A lesson no doubt learned by City Hall and its politicians and bureaucrats, who are now suddenly aware that the public is quick to action, all it takes is an emotional issue, a bit of arrogance on the side of the city and suddenly the peasants are ready to revolt.

While the issue of the last week has finally been put to rest, one wonders if there will be any leftover animosity on the volunteer side. With those that give of their time and efforts feeling that their city government and tourist infrastructure isn't particularly respectful of their efforts, or mindful of whom they are working for and being paid by.

The Daily News featured the happy conclusion as their front page story in Wednesday's paper.

After fears volunteer banners would be side-lined they end up at centre stage

By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pages one and three

After a breakdown in communication between the various groups involved in the 2008 Banner Project and subsequent public protests and finger-pointing, the City of Prince Rupert is making sure every locally-produced banner has a place to hang.

Mayor Herb Pond announced Monday that more than 80 per cent of available spots on Third Avenue West will be reserved for the Matisse-style Civic Pride banners, made by local student artists as a school art project.

Many banners have already been put up along Third Avenue and have already been garnering positive feedback from locals and visitors alike.

George Hills Way will also have its light posts adorned with the Civic Pride banners as originally proposed, and Mariner's Park will receive a visual arts focus this summer with the hand-painted banners complemented by the Journey of the Salmon art mural.

"We really are fortunate to have such passionate volunteers," said Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond.

"Local people interested in helping visitors explore the whole community, local volunteers looking to beautify the community, and local artists bringing out the best in our youth."

In addition, wayfinding banners, designed by local artist Debbie Mierau and tied to an Exploration Guide aimed to encourage visitors to explore the entire city core, are already being placed along routes in Cow Bay, 'the Cultural District' and 'Historic Downtown'. Pond said that as a result of the confusion and lack of communication between the city, the Prince Rupert Civic Pride Committee and the local Wayfinding group, city staff will develop a clear and simple permitting process for the future to ensure that there is one point of contact for exchanging information.

"I know there was some angst caused by us wanting to slow down for a moment and consult all the groups, but it was important and I'm really pleased with the way city staff did just that," said Pond. "I can't wait to see the results. The youth art is truly stunning again this year, and once again we're giving them places of prominence. Hundreds of hours from the artists, parents and teachers went into creating the banners and it shows in the final product."

Prince Rupert Secondary School art instructor Tasha Parker is happy to hear that her student's artwork will be displayed on Third Avenue West and George Hills Way, although she says many students were upset and discouraged about the manner in which their project was originally received.

"It makes me feel better, but if that's the kind of consideration we're going to get, it doesn't make me want to do it again next year," said Parker. "It turned so many kids off of painting, a lot of them didn't come back and finish painting their banners. But everybody is happy now that there are some on Third Avenue, and they look fine with the commercially-made banners."

Forty-five student-made banners will hang on Third Avenue and around 25 will be seen along George Hills Way.

It's that time of the year again!

Let me tell you how it will be;
There's one for you, nineteen for me.

'Cause I'm the taxman,
Yeah, I'm the taxman.

Should five per cent appear too small, Be thankful I don't take it all.
'Cause I'm the taxman, Yeah,
I'm the taxman.

(if you drive a car, car;) - I'll tax the street;
(if you try to sit, sit;) - I'll tax your seat;
(if you get too cold, cold;) - I'll tax the heat;
(if you take a walk, walk;) - I'll tax your feet.

'Cause I'm the taxman, Yeah, I'm the taxman.

Don't ask me what I want it for, (ah-ah, mister Wilson)
If you don't want to pay some more. (ah-ah, mister heath)

'Cause I'm the taxman, Yeah, I'm the taxman.

Now my advice for those who die, (taxman)
Declare the pennies on your eyes. (taxman)

'Cause I'm the taxman, Yeah,

I'm the taxman.

And you're working for no one but me. Taxman!

It's April 30th! Your Income taxes are due today...

The deadline for those that have to pay is midnight....

Those getting money from the government most likely have long ago filed, collected and spent.

For those working late to make their deadline, a little music to crunch your numbers to..

Salmon rationing on the Fraser, Skeena classified as a "stock of concern"

Anticipated salmon runs on the Fraser River are so dismal for this year, that the Federal Government has suggested that First Nations along the Fraser begin to work out plans to ration whatever available supply should come in from the ocean.

With the salmon run expected to be more than half of what it was last year, DFO is expressing concern for the Fraser run, as well as that of the Skeena. For the Skeena DFO has categorized the river as “a stock of concern,” which means it is unlikely fishing will be allowed for Wild Salmon.

The Globe and Mail's Mark Hume, had a comprehensive article on the issue posted to the paper's website on Wednesday.

B.C. natives should ration salmon catch, Ottawa says
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
April 30, 2008 at 1:30 AM EDT

VANCOUVER — Sockeye returns to the Fraser River this summer will be so poor that the federal government has asked 94 native bands in the watershed to come up with a catch-sharing plan that, for the first time, may involve “salmon rationing.”

Native leaders say such meagre catches are forecast that people who have always had sockeye as a staple of their traditional diet might not get any this summer.

“The salmon that are harvested will need to be rationed between and among the bands. And the individual bands may have to ration salmon inside their communities. They will very likely be forced to create priority lists for salmon,” said Ernie Crey, a director of the Sto:Lo Nation fisheries program.

“Very likely the able-bodied will do the fishing. But the leaders may be forced to say first priority for who gets the salmon are the elderly, single moms and those on welfare,” said Mr. Crey, whose organization represents about a dozen bands on the lower river.

Salmon boats sit idle in Steveston Harbour in Richmond, B.C., in 2007, after the Fraser River salmon fishery was closed. This year, sockeye returns are forecast to be so poor Ottawa has asked 94 bands to co-operate in a catch-sharing plan. (Richard Lam/The Canadian Press)
“…The government calls it a sharing plan, but that is really a euphemism for the rationing of salmon,” he said.

Although other species, such as chum and late-summer chinook, are forecast to be numerous enough to support fisheries, the loss of sockeye is a blow, because the oil-rich salmon are considered the mainstay of the native diet on the Fraser. Early explorers told of seeing salmon-drying racks in the Fraser Canyon, where they can still be found in the summer, with families gathering to put away enough fish for a year.

“There's a great dependence on the annual sockeye run,” Mr. Crey said. “The principal dietary source of protein relied upon by these 94 communities is quickly vanishing and it's alarming that there are no alternatives at hand to replace this food source.”

Early predictions are for a run of about two million sockeye, which sounds like a lot of fish. But that is down considerably from the 4.4 million average for this low-cycle year and far off the river's historical annual average, for all years, of 9.7 million.

Because the run was weak four years ago, it has long been expected that commercial and recreational fishing might not be allowed in 2008.

But the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is now predicting such low returns that the aboriginal harvest of fish for food, social and ceremonial (FSC) purposes is also facing curtailment. DFO has been asking bands along the Fraser to come up with a plan to share whatever few salmon are caught.

Mr. Crey said DFO is hoping bands can work out a plan that is acceptable to everyone, reducing conflict on the river, even while stocks are plunging to extreme lows.

“It has been a very difficult exercise for all the first nations … because they lack confidence in the [government's salmon run] forecasts,” Mr. Crey said.

“Last year there was a forecast of six million [sockeye] and it came in at two million … so we are worried it could be considerably less than [what is] being predicted now. How do we structure a plan when we don't know how many fish there will be?” he asked.

“It's a very problematic exercise. This isn't to say it can't be accomplished, because there has to be a plan … and if we don't come up with a plan, we know they [DFO] will impose a plan.”

In a letter to chiefs earlier this year, Paul Sprout, Pacific regional director general for DFO, said that reaching consensus “will be extremely challenging,” but it was necessary “in a year likely to require collective action towards conservation.” Mr. Sprout warned that low returns mean “all requests for FSC access cannot be fully satisfied.”

Sockeye start returning in the early summer and continue running through the fall. DFO predicts the run size far in advance by using a model that considers the size of the progenitor run (the parents of this year's salmon spawned in 2004) and other things related to ocean survival.

The growth rate of salmon at sea, water temperatures, salinity levels, the breeding success of sea birds (an indication of food abundance) and the timing of zooplankton blooms are all factors.
DFO has calculated there is a 90-per-cent probability the Fraser sockeye run will be at least 1.2 million (which would mean almost no fishing), but there is a 50-per-cent probability it could reach 2.8 million (which would allow a limited harvest).

Brian Riddell, head of DFO's Pacific salmon branch, said the Fraser's sockeye run isn't the only one in poor shape this year.

Wild sockeye in the Skeena have been rated as “a stock of concern,” which means it is unlikely fishing will be allowed for them.

Early chinook runs to the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and to the West Coast of Vancouver Island are also of concern, as are coho in the upper Fraser, Thompson and Georgia Strait.
Dr. Riddell said on the West Coast of North America, B.C. appears to be in a transition zone between southern waters, where nearly all stocks are in peril, and the north, where salmon are doing well.

Travel agents will be standing by

The Province's grant of 50,000 dollars towards the goal of building Asian links, has the Mayor excited about the potential to promote and develop "Canada's next great port city".

The Daily News had details on last week's fifty thousand dollar presentation from Premier Campbell, outlining some of the plans that the city may have for the money including, establishing the city's vision and objectives, identifying potential partners and supporting travel for senior officials to conduct face-to-face meetings.

The twinning program grants were first announced earlier this year, when the Province invited municipalities to apply for the financial assistance to increase their footprint on the world.

Prince Rupert's past twin city programs seem to have fallen through the cracks over the years, as the city drifted into an economic malaise.

When better financial times were available the late Mayor Peter Lester was known to make the occassional journey across the Pacific to share in the twinnings of cities in Japan and China. Trips that normally resulted in much ballyhooed presentations like the China Steel mill or some other large potential development, which in the end never seemed to come to fruition.

The revived program offers up the opportunity to rekindle those links to Asia, or create new ones with cities that may have more tangible impact on Prince Rupert.

Full details on the grant and the city's thoughts on it were found in Tuesday's Daily News.

Province puts cash on table to build Asia links
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Page one and two

While in Prince Rupert last week to announce funding for improvements to Mariner's Park, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell also presented the city with $50,000 to build better twinning relationships with Asian communities.

"We're encouraging local governments here in B.C. to explore relationships in the Asia Pacific region, as the advantages are tremendous," said Campbell.

"This initiative will support local governments like Prince Rupert's, who have already demonstrated leadership and action in forging ties with their Asian counterparts so they may further strengthen those bonds and realize the social and economic benefits."

Building stronger relationships with twinning cities in China and other Asian countries has been a hope of Prince Rupert city council for some time.

However, finding the funds to properly establish such relationships has been difficult.
With the $50,000 now available, Prince Rupert will be able to make some initial plans, such as establishing the city's vision and objectives, identifying potential partners and supporting travel for senior officials to conduct face-to-face meetings.

The funds can also be used to develop materials that will promote twinning efforts, including the funding of translating materials or the provision of cultural awareness training for staff and council members involved with the initiative.

"This grant makes all the difference in the world for Prince Rupert," said Mayor Herb Pond.
"As we develop Canada's next great port city, we view strategic twinning relationships as crucial."

"We've been very active in our twinning relationship with Ketchikan, Alaska, which is close, working on transportation issues, travelling back and forth for community celebrations," said Pond.

"But due to budget restrains, our Asian relationships have fallen dormant. The financial assistance from the province is just the catalyst we needed in reviving key Asian relationships, opening up corridors for business, education and cultural exchanges that will help us expand B.C.'s newest Pacific Gateway."

A total of 24 municipalities across B.C. have been given funds in the amounts of either $25,000 or $50,000, which were dependent on their local governments meeting a series of criteria. In order to qualify for the twinning funding, municipalities had to have a population of at least 40,000 and an existing Asia Pacific twinning relationship, or be positioned to support the province as a pre-eminent trade and cultural hub between Asia and North America. The municipalities also needed to have demonstrated recent initiatives to establish economically-robust twinning relationships with local governments or have declared an interest in pursuing relationships with a clear need for financial assistance.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Into your pockets for at least an extra sixty six bucks

The average homeowner in Prince Rupert faces an extra five percent on their taxes for 2008, as Prince Rupert city council gave their first approval to proposed tax increases.

That’s an increase of one per cent from last year when taxes for 2007 went up four percent and a jump from 2006 when the city collected an extra 500,000 dollars from civic taxpayers. Quick math tells us that’s about a 13-15 per cent jump in three years.

For 2008 the average homeowner with a house valued at 147,000 dollars will find that they need to provide an extra sixty six dollars to help the city meet its financial goals, obligations and aspirations in 2008.

By a vote of four to two, council approved the plan to go to the well of local homeowners to help to fund upcoming expenditures made up mainly of pay raises for city workers and the hiring of an additional RCMP officer.

Other key expenditures for 2008 include repairs to the arena roof at a cost of 95,000 dollars, a ferry refit expense of 50,000 dollars and for a plan to keep 42,500 dollars in additional grant money destined for the museum.

Councillor Kathy Bedard led the tax and spend side of the agenda by declaring that “people do not want to see any further cuts to services and that the proposals to reduce the five per cent increase wouldn't be worth the pain.”

Councillor Thorkelson suggested that many Rupertites had bought into the theory that the Container port would have the city rolling in money (a theory that seems to have at least had some help from some occupants of city hall over the months) but that hasn’t been the case, as it will be jobs associated with the port development, that will change things and that most anticipated day has not happened yet.

We should point out though that it seems that the city doesn't seem to have been particularly pro active in the Industrial development side of late, relying instead on the pull of the Port Corporation, the rather short tourism season and a somewhat whimsical wish that the pulp mill would somehow return to some form of operation as its main planks for industrial development.

The Mayor observed that the city's taxes have not increased as much as other municipalities, pointing to Terrace which may only have a tax rate of four per cent this year, but will rely heavily on reserves to conduct the business of the city, while Rupert works on a cash in – cash out basis.

Locals will be looking over those ten year tax statistics carefully, as the perception in Rupert over the years is that this is one of the most heavily taxed communities in the province, especially in the business taxation sector, a suspicion backed up by recent think tank reports.
In addition to the rising home taxes, the movement two years ago of the city utility bills to the start of the year with their own increases of 2007 and 2008 didn't do much to dissuade local voters about their share of the burden.

Councillor Cote seemed to revisit the Pandora ’s Box of the fire department in his commentary that the city needs to revise some of its “big ticket items” for 2009 including the fire department, funding of grants and in the area of by law enforcement. Visions of the mixed paid/volunteer fire department prospect spring to mind and the anxiety and concerns that the suggestion caused the last time the trial balloon was floated.

The recent labour agreement with city workers didn’t seem to gain much of a discussion in the budget run up, and while no one begrudges a long overdue pay increase to the city’s dedicated workforce, the recent settlement numbers are a little hard to figure.

If the city is in such financial straits that once again they need to raise taxes, you have to wonder if perhaps the negotiations could have been a little more beneficial to those that have to pay the bills.

Some critics of the city point to particularly well compensated recent hiring’s over the last few years in the administration department as being of interest, as well as the reliance on consultants of late on any number of issues, especially considering the constant state of crisis that the finances seem to dictate.

Likewise, the status of CityWest never seems to get a serious examination, since they no longer seem to provide the revenue stream to the city that once was expected, one has to wonder if the recently expanded and costly media company fits into the agenda of a struggling city.

There are a number of areas that the city needs to conduct a meticulous review of its operations and subsidiaries, in order to determine whether we are on the correct path as far as revenue generation and proper civic financial stewardship.

It might make for a rewarding approach for the upcoming municipal election campaign this fall, where a blue print for the future steeped more in facts and less in unfulfilled expectations could come in handy.

The declining home ownership base (and taxpaying and voting pool), which seems to continually be the ATM of choice for council would appreciate the details and perhaps a break from the frequent need to pull out their wallets.

Back in January the Mayor was quick to suggest that the then reported increase of property assessments didn't necessarily mean tax increases, "Just because your property value goes up, it doesn't mean your taxes are going up,"

Four months later those rising house prices and a municipal budget with a number of spending requirements included seems to suggest that yes, it apparently did mean that taxes would increase...

The Daily News featured the developments at city hall as their front page story in Tuesday's paper.

Councillors decide not to make fresh wave of cuts but to spend on services
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Pages one and three

In a four-to-two vote, Prince Rupert city council gave preliminary approval to a five per cent tax revenue increase over 2007 levels.

The increase is expected to cover a three per cent raise for the majority of city workers as well as fund one additional RCMP officer. The rise in property tax will cost a homeowner with property valued at $147,000 about $66 more each year.

The decision came after council instructed staff to provide it with options to reduce the proposed five per cent increase by one to 1.5 per cent at their last council meeting. Each one per cent increase represents $100,000 out of the city's budget.

While Coun. Ken Cote and Tony Briglio wanted city staff to look at cutting another $38,000 out of expenditures as well as cutting $50,000 out of the grant budget, Coun. Kathy Bedard, Joy Thorkelson, Sheila Gordon-Payne and Mayor Herb Pond felt the average household could afford the $12.50 difference between a five per cent and four per cent tax increase.

Coun. Kathy Bedard said that people do not want to see any further cuts to services and that the proposals to reduce the five per cent increase wouldn't be worth the pain.

Staff suggested council cut five per cent by not adding the additional RCMP officer, a saving of $87,000 to the city, not repairing the arena roof (saving $95,000), not putting aside $50,000 for the 2009 ferry refit and reducing the grant to the museum by $42,250, which would keep the museum grant at 2007 levels.

"All this would do is delay the inevitable," said Bedard. "To look at delaying these specific infrastructure items would do more harm than good."

She said people want infrastructure, fixed roads and security; they don't want to see reduced recreational facility hours.

Coun. Joy Thorkelson noted that city staff have already stripped $176,000 out of operations compared to last year and to ask them to do any more with any less would be detrimental to morale.

"If anyone thinks we have a huge slush fund, they are sorely mistaken," she said.

"The city is going to fall apart if we don't look after it," said Thorkelson who added that a lot of people bought into the idea that the city would be rolling in money when the new container terminal opened, but it wasn't the jobs from the port but associated manufacturing that would bring prosperity. And that has not happened yet.

"And it hasn't helped that the U.S. is having a housing crisis and a recession in the banking industry, that hasn't helped our port," she said.

Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond said over the past 10 years, the city's taxes have not increased as much as other municipalities. And while Terrace is proposing a four per cent tax increase this year, they are proposing to operate using a significant amount of their reserves from previous years - about $2 million. The city, meanwhile, will be operating on a cash-in, cash-out basis - only spending what it receives.

However, Coun. Ken Cote noted the city is taking in an additional million dollars this year in gaming revenues from Chances Casino, as well as $650,000 from Maher Terminals.
He suggested the city has some big-ticket items it needs to look at revising in order to achieve future savings for 2009. These include the fire department, grant funding and bylaw enforcement.

Other suggestions brought up at last week's public meeting included revising the structure of the airport ferry, which after deducting fares and other receipts still costs the city about $1 million a year to operate, and the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry dock.

"I believe there are places we can look at where the city can save money," said Coun. Sheila Gordon-Payne, however these would only get started in 2008 and it would not be until 2009 that their full financial effect was felt.
The budget will be presented to council for fourth reading and adoption at the next meeting.

Monday, April 28, 2008

PInball parking wreaks havoc downtown

Friday afternoon resembled a bit of a demolition derby on the downtown streets, as a black Ford Explorer caused extensive damage to a number of vehicles parked along Third street.

The Explorer turning onto Third appears to have bounced off the sidewalk, run down a sign and hit a car and a minivan before finally coming to a stop.

All of Prince Rupert's emergecny services reported to the scene with the driver quickly was taken up to Prince Rupert Regional Hospital for treatment, while authorities dealt with the dented vehicles left behind.

The Daily News had a summary of the incident in Monday's paper.

SUV leaves a trail of destruction
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Monday, April 28, 2008

Page three

Members of the Prince Rupert Fire Department, BC Ambulance and Prince Rupert RCMP were all on scene within minutes after a black Ford Explorer did extensive damage to several parked vehicles on Third Street.

It is unknown at this time what caused the male driver of the SUV to apparently lose control after turning onto the one-way street from Second Avenue West. The driver was taken to the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital by ambulance within minutes of the accident.

Upon turning, police believe the SUV went onto the sidewalk on Third Street, where it ran over a parking sign and knocked off a licence plate before continuing and striking a parked blue Acura Integra. Police believe the vehicle then crossed the street and hit a white minivan before coming to rest.

The driver of the SUV is believed to have been the only person injured as a result of the incident. The owner of the Acura expressed relief that a dog inside her vehicle escaped unharmed.

Increased air connections could help deficit reduction

Mayor Herb Pond explained how the city had been lobbying hard for Air Canada to add the extra third flight in the high travel months that was recently added to the schedule. A prospect that should help the city work towards making the goal of one day having the airport become revenue neutral again.

With all the talk about transportation to and from the airport, the new general manager of Community Futures. Knut Bjorndal has weighed into the discussion, suggesting that the city work more closely with the local First Nations services to streamline transportation options for all in a more cost effective basis. With the two services losing a combined 2.5 million dollars, Bjorndal said he was willing to help develop a plan that might reduce the red ink of the operations.

The prospect of the always on the horizon fixed link was touched on as well, though it still must surely be more of a wish list item than a time to get to the blueprints project at the moment.

All of those thoughts, as well as the Mayors consultations with Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon were all included in a piece in Monday's Daily News.

Mayor has high hopes as carrier elevates air service
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Monday, April 28, 2008
Pages one and three

Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond is hoping an additional Air Canada flight each week to and from Prince Rupert this summer will help take some of the financial sting out of operating the airport ferry.

The city loses close to a million dollars a year operating the service to move travellers to and from the Digby Island airport.

"We have worked really diligently with Air Canada was to get that third flight in place," said Pond.

"One of the problems last year was, once those flights were fully booked, our ability to grow that business was capped. The airlines were making great money but the airport itself was somewhat challenged. We are hopeful the extra frequency will increase passenger numbers," said Pond during a public meeting on the city's finances last week.

Starting March 31, Air Canada began offering a mid-day service in addition to its morning and evening flights.

Pond said increasing airport traffic is one of the ways to make the airport ferry revenue-neutral, which is what it was in the past.

"For what it's worth, in my last meeting with the Transportation Minister and almost every meeting I get with the Transportation Minister, I begin by saying 'you do realize that we are still the only community in B.C. that is paying for access to its airport and we would like to see something done about that,'" said Pond.

"This council has met with the Transportation Minister in the last number of years I don't know how many times to talk about taking on that load and, to date, the ministry simply throws it back at us and into the city's lap."

Knut Bjorndal, general manager of Community Futures of the Pacific Northwest, suggested the city look at working with the neighbouring communities of Lax Kw'alaams and Metlakatla to improve the service. Currently, the harbour is over supplied with ferry operations, he said.

"We should look at some partnerships with the native communities. They've got a ferry that loses $1.25 million and we've got one that loses a million. I would be very happy at Community Futures to look at putting together a plan," Bjorndal said.

Even if, by working together, they only manage to save a few hundred thousand dollars, all three communities would be better off and better served by the improved service.
And this way, the city could take action while it waits on provincial approval for the Tsimshian Access project.

"Any sports magnet will tell you, you don't win games by having home run hitters.

"You win games by hitting singles. That's were we have to come from, take small steps, look at relocating the access to get more people going over there," he said.

Pineridge students scatter to schools across the city

The recent fire at Pineridge elementary has proven to be more serious than first thought, as the three day holiday from classes has turned into a mass migration to the remaining west and east side schools.

Air quality concerns at Pineridge have forced School District 52 to relocate students of all seven grades to various schools around the district, making for a disruptive end to the school year for the west side school students.

Bus scheduling, classroom allocation and parental contact were all high on the agenda of last week with the anticipation of classes resuming on Tuesday.

The Daily News had many of the details of the forced cross city exchange as a front page story in Monday’s paper.

Student’s must finish their studies at Lax Keen, Westview and Roosevelt
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Monday, April 28, 2008
Pages one and three

Pineridge Elementary was eerily quiet on Friday as teachers finished packing their classrooms and School District employees arrived to begin the process of moving nine classrooms across the city.

The hasty arrangements were necessary after it was announced late Thursday that Pineridge will close its doors for the remainder of the school year due to air quality concerns following a staffroom fire on Tuesday.

Although the fire department was able to contain the blaze and extinguish it quickly, smoke spread through the building's ceiling cavity and was sucked up by the heating and ventilaiton system and distributed into all of the school's classrooms making the school unusable for the time being.

School District 52 has responded by putting together a plan that will move students and teachers to other elementary schools.

Four divisions of Grade 5, 6 and 7 students will be relocated to Westview; two classrooms of Grade 2, 3 and 4 students will move into Lax Kxeen; and Pineridge's three classes of Kindergarten to Grade 2 students will find themselves at Roosevelt for the remainder of the school year.

Teachers were working diligently last week to have their classroom materials packed at Pineridge, and since Friday afternoon have been preparing their new classrooms for students to arrive on Tuesday morning ready to learn. Pineridge Principal Darrel Wright said he was unsure what his role will be for the rest of the school year, but he said his only real concern was ensuring his students and their families were aware of everything that was happening and that their relocation goes smoothly as possible.

On Friday, Wright said he and school staff had made phone calls to all Pineridge parents alerting them to the situation and informing them of the plan, and he said he would be calling all families again on Monday.

A meeting was also schedule for Friday evening at 7 p.m. in the Charles Hays Secondary School Multi-Purpose Room, where Wright planned to explain the course of action that was being taken to parents; including busing plans, timelines, and how all the decisions were made.

"The staff at the receiving schools have been exceptional and very welcoming," said Bill Ford, the director of instruction for School District 52.

"This is a time when our school district really does us proud. They come together, are very supportive, and nothing has been a problem. The same goes for the staff at Pineridge who have been just awesome.

"They've hunkered down and done what they needed to do to get this move done, and really made lemonade out of lemons."

Facing up to the challenges on the horizon for cruise industry

"In the cruise sector we have one line that already has us under review for 2009, that's no secret. "We have consistent challenges across that sector. It all revolves around the visitor experience. We can try and address that through 'way finding' (banner/map program) but it's going to take continued effort and continued support from all around to make that work.”—Tourism Prince Rupert’s Bruce Wishart on the challenges facing the local cruise market.

With one cruise line exploring its options as far as keeping Prince Rupert as a port of call, local tourism officials and operators are looking for ways to improve the visitor experience and spread the word about the local tourist scene.

In an article in Friday’s paper, Tourism Prince Rupert head Bruce Wishart provided an examination of some of those local issues and how Tourism Prince Rupert needs to work with community groups to put forward the best impression of the city.

Of course, those relationships might have gotten off to a rocky start with the recent uproar over banners in the tourist areas of town. A contriversial decision which saw much anger directed at the City of Prince Rupert when it was announced that commercially commissioned banners were set to lead the way through the city districts, while locally produced banners mostly from school children were to be moved off the more heavily traveled areas.

That debate took up much of last weeks news agenda as the community groups expressed their disgust at the handling of the issue by the city, leaving more than a few local comminity members to express their frustrations in a rather vocal manner.

The Friday article provides a look at some of the comparisons between the expectations of the coming year and some of the crisis situations of the last few years in the local tourist industry.

TPR boss looking to solve new cruise line challenges
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Friday, April 25, 2008
Pages one and three

As the city prepares for the arrival of the first cruise ship of the season next week, it faces some significant challenges, according to Tourism Prince Rupert.

Bruce Wishart, executive director of Tourism Prince Rupert, spoke to Prince Rupert city council recently about plans to improve visitor experience for cruise ship passengers during the 2008 season using the new banner and map 'way finding' program.

"In the cruise sector we have one line that already has us under review for 2009, that's no secret.

"We have consistent challenges across that sector. It all revolves around the visitor experience. We can try and address that through 'way finding' (banner/map program) but it's going to take continued effort and continued support from all around to make that work," said Wishart.

The first large cruise ship arrives in Prince Rupert on Thurs., May 1, at 2 p.m.

The Norwegian Star carries 2,240 passengers and will stop for six hours.

Then, on Sat., May 3, the Mercury will stop for a full day visit.

During the season, Prince Rupert can expect regular calls on Wednesdays from the Rhapsody of the Seas, which will stay in port from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Thursdays from the Norwegian Star, which will be here from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Wishart told council they hope to have the new banners for the 'way finding' program in place in time for the first cruise ship of the season.

The colour palette for the banners was first chosen in 2004, but updated this year and the three colours of the banners match the three sections on the map.

"The banners will be going up in time for the beginning of the cruise ship operations this year, consistent with that is an enhanced exploration guide," said Wishart.

The three different areas in town include a maritime theme in Cow Bay, a cultural district that plays upon a First Nations theme around the museum and the historic downtown, with a banner showcasing a design element from the capital theatre building.

Another challenge facing Prince Rupert's tourism sector in 2008 will be the delays for VIA Rail, said Wishart.

These have been happening since the opening of the Fairview Container Terminal. However, Tourism Prince Rupert and the Prince Rupert Port Authority are working toward a solution.
Wishart told council one of the key focuses for Tourism Prince Rupert was working with community organizations.

"We need to work with our community partners, not only to ensure we are all sharing information, but to make sure we are not duplicating effort," he said.

Hotel revenues show that tourism in Prince Rupert bounced back in 2007, following the sinking of the Queen of the North in 2006 - despite a rocky start to the year.

"The 2007 season ... catastrophic road failure, that's how we started the year, flooding and landslides really hit the sport fishing sector hard, but with that exception it was a tremendous year," said Wishart.

"Hotel tax revenues came up about 36 per cent, which brings it back to pre Queen of the North sinking levels, as a matter of fact a little bit higher than that so we marketed our way out of that one."

And despite the challenges facing tourism, Wishart said he anticipates another good year in 2008.

"We are anticipating a good year. I think we can safely say we will see a continued rise in the hotel room tax. However, we do have some challenges."

Podunkian Music Club April 2008

Our archive of selections for April.

April 27-- John Mellencamp, Lonely Ol' Night
April 21-- Elton John, Saturday Night's alright for Fighting
April 14-- Eddie Vedder, No More
April 7-- U2, Pride in the Name of Love

Podunkian Music Club

John Mellencamp--Lonely Ol' Night

Well the Carnival has made its annual pilgrimage to Podunk this weekend, so we felt we'd dig into the archives a bit and dig up one of the best little tunes all about hanging out that there is out there.

Mellencamp regularly records the trials and tribulations of small town life in his music and none was better than his hit off of Scarecrow.

From the thrill of the midway rides, through the wandering of the downtown streets the song captures the atmosphere at hand quite well.

With it's driving rock and roll feel and fast moving video edits, the video, a hand held black and white examination of small town life became the staple of the video channels through the late eighties.

For Podunkians still soggy from their weekend trip to the land of the carnies it will bring back the memories of the midway (though we must admit our version is a tad , er smaller than this), for those from afar here's a chance live the Podunkian life vicariously through our presentation.

Artist-- John Mellencamp
Recording-- Scarecrow

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rushbrook trail gets cash infusion

It was a week for cheque ceremonies, as in addition to the Premier's visit with cash in hand for the Spirit Square for Mariner's Park on Thursday, another local project received a cash injection.

The Province provided 100,000 dollars last Wednesday, towards the 350,000 dollar cost of making the Rushbrook trail safe and usable to the public once again. The project goes back to 2007 and a move by the Rotary Club to try and get the renovations and upgrades back on track for the popular walking trail on the east side of the city.
It's the second time that the Rotarians have tried to get the necessary financial support in place to make some progress on the project.

The Daily news had the details on the grant and the project in Friday's paper.

Big step forward for Rushbrook Trail
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Friday, April 25, 2008
Pages one and three

The Prince Rupert Rotary Club took another step forward in the completion of the Rushbrook Olympic Interpretive Walkway on Wednesday, when they received a cheque for $100,000 from Bulkley Valley-Stikine MLA Dennis MacKay.

The total award from the Olympic/Paralympic Live Sites (OPLS) Program for the project is $150,000, the second portion of which will be awarded when the project is completed later in 2008.

The funds comprise a large part of the total budget for the project, which is expected to be more than $350,000 due to the complex engineering and development plans needed to ensure the trail is located a safe distance from the cliff-face, where rock slides are always a safety concern.

"The Rotary Club of Prince Rupert would like to thank the OPLS for their significant contribution, which has made this very worthwhile and complex project possible," said Bill Nicholls, president of the Prince Rupert Rotary Club. "Despite its closure a number of years ago by the City of Prince Rupert due to safety concerns, this popular trail sill attracts thousands of local pedestrians each year. The walkway will promote fitness within the community, provide an educational resources for local teachers and create a tourism amenity for the cruise ship facility."
Many partners have contributed to the cost.

The Rotary Club has put in $75,000, as did the Coast Sustainability Trust fund, while the City of Prince Rupert contributed $25,000.

Western Economic Diversification put in $27,000 for the initial feasibility studies.

The total project includes relocating parts of the existing walkway away from the hillside in 'high' and 'moderate' slide risk areas, using the existing railway bed as a catchment area, as well as installing a new roadbed using crushed rock. New ditches will be dug for improved drainage, and existing signage, railings, culverts and benches will be replaced.

Finally, interpretive signage will be installed to highlight the rich heritage and wildlife of the North Coast, describing traditional food plants and herbs along the coast and addressing the history of the region.

Nicholls said the Rotary Club is excited about the progress of the Rushbrook project, because all that's needed now is final approval from Fisheries and Oceans Canada before the project can be put out for tender.

He said the fact that three bridges need to be constructed as part of the engineering plan has added complexity to the project, but once a successful bidder is announced the timeline for completion should be approximately three months.

It's believed that the finished walkway will encourage economic development and generate seasonal jobs such as tour guides, retail staff and local merchants, in addition to attracting local and visiting pedestrians and creating a tourism amenity.

Three businesses destroyed by fire on Queen Charlottes

Port Clements volunteer firefighters battled a major fire in the village on Friday morning as three buildings on Cedar Avenue burst into flames in the early morning hours.

The fire resulted in problems later in the day as well for residents and school children, as the fire created problems for the village’s water supply.

The fire was still smoldering into Friday afternoon and was expected to be doing much the same through the weekend just passed.

The Queen Charlotte Islands Observer had details on the fire posted to its website.

The video above of the fire was posted to YouTube over the weekend.

Fire in Port Clements destroys three buildings
By Heather Ramsay
Queen Charlotte Islands Observer
Friday, April 25, 2008

A raging fire destroyed three buildings in Port Clements in the early morning hours Friday.

Fire chief Craig Beachy said the fire department received a call at 1:55 am Friday (April 25) and when they arrived on the scene three buildings on Cedar Avenue were in flames. Twelve hours later, all three buildings, housing businesses called the Retreat, Ship Shape and Candy's Katering, were gone, said Mr. Beachy.

"What wasn't burned we had to demolish to put the fire out," he said.

One of the buildings had been built around a mobile unit, said Mr. Beachy, and with an airspace under the floor, the fire department had hack their way in to get at the fire.Mr. Beachy said his fire fighters were limited by the water supply in Port Clements, which is always an issue.
"I had more fire than hose lines," he said.

The fire-fighting caused problems with the water supply in Port, something Mr. Beachy wasn't surprised to hear.

"We were drawing all the system could supply," he said.

Children attending Port Clements Elementary school were sent home at 1pm because the water had been shut off, said School district Secretary treasurer Ken Campbell.

Eighteen members of the volunteer fire department fought the fire until 6 am when some had to head to work. Mr. Beachy and a few others were at the scene for 12 hours. He said the fire was still smoldering at 3 pm Friday and probably would be for a couple of days.

Mr. Beachy said RCMP members were at the scene and BC Hydro helped get rid of some power lines that were in the way. He said an insurance adjuster was also at the scene. The insurance company will try and determine the cause of the fire.Nadine Whittle watched the sparks and flames for about an hour. "It was unbelievable, losing three buildings all in a row," she said.

She took some video footage so she could show her mother, who used to run Bunny's Drape and Sew out of the building where Ship Shape once was.

Others reported trouble with telephone lines in town. Heather Nelson-Smith at the village office said one of their lines was down and other neighbours had complained, but the outages were sporadic.

Mr. Beachy didn't think any of the telephone lines had been impacted.

Photos and cash for a favourite town

"Prince Rupert is one of my favorite towns in the province because of the spirit you've had, and you've built yourselves a strong future not just because of your port but because of other activities taking place here,"-- Premier Gordon Campbell at Mariners Park Spirit Square announcement

The Premier arrived in Prince Rupert on Thursday afternoon for a meeting with local Liberals in the city that evening and while here, took part in a public presentation where he provided a cheque for 182,500 dollars dedicated towards creating a “Spirit Square” at the city’s Pacific Mariners Park.

Proclaiming Prince Rupert to be one of “his favourite towns”, Gordon Campbell posed for pictures and praised the community and the Spirit Square development.

The money is part of a province wide initiative to create Spirit Squares, public places where everyone will gather to celebrate success and talk with one another. It’s a project that was first launched several years ago, so the money being provided to the city is certainly something that wasn’t unexpected, being part of a province wide initiative of allocations from the Liberal government.

Though with all that goodwill coursing through Mariners park on Thursday, we wonder if the Mayor took advantage of the spirit of the Sprit Square, to bend an ear and chat with the Premier over the million dollar Alaska ferry dock bill.

Recently much was made about the Mayor’s recent trip to Victoria to talk with the Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon over the issue. We’re hopeful that he took advantage of the Premier’s travel plans to push forward his case for a provincial contribution towards the cost of the North Coasts main transportation link to Alaska.

Hopefully, the Premier decides to return north soon with another one of those large cheque presentations, considering the personal relationship that seems to have developed between the Mayor and the Premier, crossing the t's and dotting the i's should be a rather simple thing to accomplish one would think.

The Daily News featured details of the cheque presentation and other points of the Premier’s public agenda as the front page story in Friday’s paper.

Province doles out $182,500 for park in one of Campbell's 'favourite towns'
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Friday, April 25, 2008
Pages one and three

Amidst a spring hail shower, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell stood in Pacific Mariners' Memorial Park yesterday to announce $182,500 in provincial funding for the downtown waterfront park.

"Prince Rupert is one of my favorite towns in the province because of the spirit you've had, and you've built yourselves a strong future not just because of your port but because of other activities taking place here," said Campbell.

"The Spirit Square's vantage point overlooking the cruise ship facility will not only pay tribute to this community's marine history, but to it's future too, as a key part of Canada's Pacific Gateway."

Campbell pointed out that it was today, April 25, 1959, that the St. Lawrence Seaway was first opened, an event, he said, that will be remembered as important to Canada and the continent as the beginning of trade between Prince Rupert and the rest of the globe. The Spirit Square program was announced several years ago, with the goal of reminding communities throughout the province that towns are places for people to come together and celebrate.

"There are a lot of things that keep us apart in the world today, and the idea behind Spirit Squares is to help communities create the public places where everyone is invited to come and celebrate successes and talk with one another and learn from one another," said Campbell.

"It's really in the tradition of the traditional town-square, and really to reflect the spirit of British Columbia as we celebrate our 150th anniversary this year. I think people sometimes forget we live in great places, we have great community spirit across the province, and I think doing this here at this park is really reflective of not just the history Prince Rupert has but the future it has as well."

Mayor Herb Pond said a lot of the developing work and consultation for Mariners' Park is still taking place, but certain elements will be a part of the plan. One component will be improving wheelchair accessibility throughout the park, another will be the creation of a band-shell for outdoor performances.

An interpretive wall will also be constructed to give residents and visitors a history of the mariners and maritime history of the park, as well as a new fence with the Journey of the Salmon artwork.

The community can also expect a covered picnic area for barbeques and family outings, where they'll be safe from elements, such as spring hail showers.

"Pacific Mariners' Memorial Park honours our historical roots and the brave men and women who helped to build our coastal communities," said Pond.

"It is an important reminder of our heritage, as well as a focal point for the community. The improvements we've planned will build on the park's role as a gathering place for residents and as a place of welcome for visitors to Prince Rupert."

Examining revenues and wishful tax thinking at City Hall

Last weeks public meeting on budget preparations provided a few interesting tidbits of information from City Hall.

With the city putting together its budget forecast for 2008, the city hosted a Monday night open house of sorts to underline their fiscal concerns and expectations for this year.

Among some of the details outlined on Monday were that CityWest will once again, for the third year in a row miss its target of providing 2 million dollars in revenue for the city, instead cutting its expected contribution to the city’s bottom line to one million dollars.

Also on the horizon, the city hopes, is some tax revenue from the Watson Island facility owned by Sun Wave Forest Products, a one time potential pulp mill owner and operator, but currently more of an offshore and absentee landlord. The City has put their request back on the books for 1.2 million in taxes from Sun Wave, a fifty percent cut from the past expectations of 2.5 million from the property. Still it’s more of a wish that a sure thing for the 2008 tax year, as Sun Wave is currently appealing its assessment.

All was not deficit financing at City hall however, Chances Gambling Centre is expected to be sending a cheque for somewhere around 400,000 dollars from their operations on 1st Avenue West, while the Fairview Container Port will provide 650,000 dollars in tax revenue, plus provincial funds that top up the capped rate of taxation on ports in BC.

From 1999 to 2003 the City spent monies in anticipation of revenues that never materialized, resulting in a 5.5 million dollar shortfall taken from their various surplus funds; they also went a further 4 million into debt to maintain operations during that period. Since 2003 they have been working on balancing their finances and addressing their deficits by taking, (from their point of view) a tighter control on spending.

How the CityWest reduction and the continuing dispute over the Sun Wave monies affects the bottom line remains to be seen, with more discussion surely to follow.

The Daily News provided details on the city’s tax hopes in Friday’s paper.

City expects mill owners to contribute $1.2m taxes
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Friday, April 25, 2008
Page three

The city of Prince Rupert is putting Skeena taxes back into its budget, but at a severely reduced rate.

Dan Rodin, the city's chief financial officer, told residents at a public meeting this week that the city is expecting tax revenue from the Watson Island pulp mill property, currently owned by Sun Wave Forest Products.

In 2008, the city has assumed it will see $1.2 million from the property, which in the past had been assessed at upwards of $2.5 million.

"In regards to the pulp mill, it has been assessed taxes for this year. We have every expectation they are going to pay them," said Rodin.

However, Sun Wave Forest Products has appealed their assessment to the B.C. Assessment Authority and is going through the lengthy process of a review.

In anticipation of a reduced assessment, the city has dropped its expectations of revenues from the property to $1.2 million and doesn't anticipate the assessment process for Sun Wave being resolved until sometime in 2009.

Sun Wave is not operating the mill, but is generating some revenue through leasing out some facilities. The Watson Island site has two tenants including the Quickload Terminals Container Examination Facility and the Coast Tsimshian.

The city got into a deficit position between 1999 and 2003 when it continued to spend taxes it anticipated receiving from the pulp mill's owners. Unfortunately, the various owners never did pay those taxes.

During those years, the city spent close to $5.5 million from its water, sewer and telephone surplus funds as well as going into debt by an additional $4 million in order to continue its operations.

According to Rodin, the city does not have to repay the surplus funds to itself, as those were not dedicated reserve funds. Since 2003, the city has focused on rebalancing its budget and reducing its deficit position. In order to achieve these goals, it has had to take a tight position on spending.
The city is also planning on another revenue reduction in 2008. The city has only budgeted for a $1 million contribution from CityWest. This would be the third year in a row the municipally owned communications company has contributed $1 million, instead of the $2 million it used to contribute to the city's coffers in the past when it was operated as a city department.

However, there are some improvements in income for the city.

In addition to taxes from the Chances Community Gaming Centre, the city is anticipating about $400,000 in gaming revenues.

"We have had a few chats with people at the casino and they have advised us to use the figure of $400,000," said Rodin.

And the city is getting more revenue from the new operations at the Fairview Container Terminal, about $650,000. The tax rate for port properties is capped by the province, however the city receives a $1.3 million top-up grant from provincial coffers to offset the lost revenue from the tax cap on port properties.

Vulnerability issues raise questions for Liberals

"The province is spending an awful lot of time and money to find evidence that our students need help, then not doing much to help them."-- MLA Gary Coons, responding to data issued from the Early Development Instrument

The findings from a recent release of data from Early Development Instrument show a particularly vulnerable state for many of Prince Rupert’s starting age school children, and issue that the local MLA Gary Coons has continued to raise in Victoria.

Armed with numbers that show that children entering kindergarten showed 'vulnerability' in one or more of five categories in 2003, increased to almost one in two, or 48.7 per cent in the 2007, Coons was looking for answers and solutions from Education Minister Shirley Bond last week.

Seal Cove school and area was according to Coons one of the most vulnerable regions in the province, which may leave many to wonder how those students maybe affected further, as that school closes for good in June, its students moved on to either Conrad or Lax Keen schools.

Results for Haida Gwaii and Gold Trail districts also indicated a higher risk factor for students in those areas, leaving Coons to wonder what the Ministry has in mind to address the core issue of vulnerability across the province.

Coons explained his thoughts on the situation in a Daily News article from Thursday’s paper.

Use EDI data to help students says MLA
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Pages one and three

Tools like the Early Development Instrument (EDI), which is used to diagnose barriers to education must be used to improve student outcomes, says North Coast MLA Gary Coons.
Last week, Coons questioned the Education Minister about what EDI results were being used for.

"Seal Cove is one of the regions that is the most vulnerable in the province as far as the latest EDI results," said Coons.

"I'm just wondering what the minister and staff do with the EDI results, as far as communities and regions where schools are closing, in very vulnerable areas where that's the heart and soul of the community."

Education Minister Shirley Bond responded by placing the burden of action on the school districts, although she did indicate that the results are used to help locate the province's StrongStart programs.

In Prince Rupert, 40.2 per cent - or four out of 10 - children entering kindergarten showed 'vulnerability' in one or more of five categories in 2003, a number that increased to almost one in two, or 48.7 per cent in the 2007 results. Prince Rupert had the third highest level of vulnerability in the province in the 2007 study, with Haida Gwaii ranking second highest at 51.9 per cent and Gold Trail the highest at 54.1 per cent.

"There needs to be a greater connection between identified barriers and initiatives to correct those barriers," said Coons.

"Significant action and funding must materialize after the ministry has determined that students are facing obstacles to their education. If students are showing up to school hungry and prepared to fail, and the ministry knows that, they need to do something substantial to correct the problem."

Coons said he supports the StrongStart program, but would like to see the Ministry of Education do more to help struggling students in School District 52.

"One thing that seems to be missing from the funding formula is a greater emphasis on equalizing opportunities for students coming from disadvantageous situations," noted Coons.

"The province is spending an awful lot of time and money to find evidence that our students need help, then not doing much to help them."

Rising but still affordable

The B. C. Northern Real Estate board is offering up an invitation for British Columbians looking for affordable housing to think about a move north.

The housing boom and mass migration to the southern cities of BC is sending the affordability ratio skyrocketing for Vancouver and environs with 73 per cent of a median household income needed to cover off the costs of home ownership, northern BC’s ratio is 31.7 per cent, which at the end of the day would leave home owners with a bit more money in their pockets, though perhaps a less valuable property as far as an asking price, in most cases come selling day.

Prince Rupert proves to be more affordable than most in the North with a ratio of 25 per cent up 7 per cent from the days of 2003 when properties were selling lower than they are today, in 2003 the average selling price of a Prince Rupert home was 90,000 where the latest numbers for 2007 suggest an average price of of160, 000.

An interesting note from a second study quoted in the Daily News article, comes from a study from CMHC which examined apartment rentals and construction across the province. An expanding economy in the south leading to fewer vancancies with a decline province wide in the construction of new rental units, a particularly stark situation in Prince Rupert where no apartment buildings have been built in recent times.

The Daily News provides some number crunching details from the Real Estate board as part of a story from Thursday’s paper.

Area still one of B.C.'s most affordable
Province is nation's most expensive but Northwest offers value for money
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Pages one and three

The escalating cost of housing in the Lower Mainland and other parts of B.C. is not translating into a problem for Northern residents, according to the B.C. Northern Real Estate Board.
For 2007, the Housing Affordability Index (HAI) for northern British Columbia was 31.7 per cent compared with 73.8 per cent for Vancouver. The index estimates the proportion of pre-tax median household income needed to cover mortgage costs, municipal taxes and fees, and utilities for single-family homes.

"Rising prices made housing less affordable in Northern B.C. in 2007. Since 2004, average house prices have increase 72.6 per cent, yet owning a home in Northern B.C. consumes a much smaller portion of household income than it does anywhere else in the province, especially Vancouver, where the burden of home ownership is substantial," said Rory Conroy, who prepared the report for the B.C. Northern Real Estate Board (BCNREB.)

BCNREB commissioned this study after RBC Financial Group released the results of their cross-Canada housing affordability study, which showed that B.C. was the least affordable place in which to buy a house.

BCNREB reports that the costs in northern B.C. are about 31.7 per cent of family income compared to 68.5 per cent for the entire province.

In Prince Rupert, the cost of owning a home took up an average of 18 per cent of pre-tax income in 2003 and this has increased to more than 25 per cent in 2007.

However, 2003 represented a low point for the average house price. In 1998, the average house price dropped from $129,000 to a low of $90,00 in 2003 and back up to around $160,000 in 2007. Terrace and Kitimat have both seen similar swings in housing prices.

The index shows that the typical household in Vancouver will spend almost 74 per cent of its pre-tax income on home ownership while the typical household in northern B.C. spends less than 32 per cent of its pre-tax income on home ownership.

This positive difference in affordability has persisted despite double digit increases in sales and prices of single-family homes in northern B.C.

Meanwhile, a study released late last year shows there are fewer apartments for rent in Prince Rupert compared to 2006 and that rents have gone up.

According to a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) report released this fall, vacancy rates in Prince Rupert decreased from 20.5 per cent in October 2006 to 15 per cent in October 2007, while the average price has increased from $537 to $561, during the same period.
In October 2007, Prince Rupert had 94 vacant apartments and 629 rented apartments.
According to the report, it was B.C.'s growing economy, expanding employment and high levels of migration that caused fewer apartment vacancies across the province.

On the supply side, there have been very few new apartments built across the province this year - with none at all built in Prince Rupert.

Friday, April 25, 2008

CN sees Prince Rupert Port as a bright spot in its future

"We are already trying to figure out, and we are confident enough, that we are trying to figure out ways we increase capacity through the facility as well."--Hunter Harrison, CN Rail CEO speaking about the Fairview Container Terminal.

While the economic slowdown continues in the USA and other economic factors begins to affect the world of shipping, CN still finds that the Prince Rupert advantage will be something to trumpet to importers and exporters over the next few years.

The railroad is looking towards its transportation partners to begin to increase the current through put through the Fairview facility, with an eye towards larger ships arriving and of further expansion of the port's handling capabilities in the future.

Hunter Harrison, CN's CEO outlined his thoughts on the state of shipping and his railroad during a conference call earlier this week, the Daily News offered some of his talking points in a front page story in Thursday's paper.

He is expecting to see more large ships calling at Fairview
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Pages one and two

In between a harsh winter, a slumping U.S. economy and high fuel costs, the new intermodal container terminal operations in Prince Rupert remained a bright spot for CN Rail in the first quarter of 2008.

During a conference call with analysts earlier this week, Hunter Harrison, CN's chief executive officer, said the company is on track to meet its projections of $100 million in revenue from the first year of operations and, despite a softening in import volumes, the rail company is continuing discussions with shippers to add more volume at the Maher Terminals facility.

"The $100 million in revenue in guidance for this year is still right on track," said Harrison. "I have been more optimistic in the past and thought we would have had more of that capacity filled by now but clearly the import volumes into North America from Asia are down."

There are two reasons CN believes it can beat its earnings estimate for volumes moving through the facility.

"One is we continue to have dialogue with additional customers and there are still a number of steamship companies and consortiums that are talking to us about making Prince Rupert a new port of call," Harrison said. "Also, we are talking to COSCO and their business partners about increasing the size of vessels they may use to call on Prince Rupert because of some rationalizing that is ongoing between the Atlantic and Pacific calls. This would also add the capacity to bulk up our numbers for this year."

COSCO began moving containers through the terminal in October of 2007. The ships stoping in Prince Rupert are part of the CKYH Alliance's Pacific Northwest Butterfly South Loop service, of which COSCO is one of four shipping lines. Each ship has a capacity of 5,400 TEUs (average 20-foot containers.)

And despite the slump in import volumes and problems in the U.S., Harrison said they are still working on ways to expand capacity at the port.

"We are already trying to figure out, and we are confident enough, that we are trying to figure out ways we increase capacity through the facility as well," he said.

It's been a hash winter for CN Rail, and soft markets have the company reducing its earnings forecast. CN released its first quarter results, with earnings falling four per cent to $311 million.
CN executives said its results were impacted by a severe winter in many parts of North America, high fuel costs, a strong Canadian dollar and slumping American economy.
"Thank God it's spring time," said Harrison.

The extreme cold and snow affected the entire system this winter, including Prince Rupert-to-Prince George.

In January, CN took the unprecedented step of suspending most operations in the West for almost two days to ensure the safety of employees.

"Clearly, I thought last year was a bad winter. This year went far beyond," he told analysts, noting record snowfall in Quebec, Ontario, Michigan and Wisconsin.

CN said weather challenges cost the company three cents per share of lost earnings.
"Contrary to other reports, I thought we bounced back pretty quick," he added, rejecting one analyst's suggestion that the company may have ended up cutting expenses too deeply.

Due to the challenges facing the U.S. economy and fuel costs, the railway also lowered its 2008 diluted earnings per share forecast to the "mid-single digit" range over 2007 earnings per share of $3.40. That's down from an earlier forecast of "mid-to-high" single digit growth. Revenues should grow at between six and eight per cent, the Montreal-based railway said.

Cap and trade programs steeped in secrecy

The NDP MLA for the North Coast is calling for a little bit more transparency when it comes to the Liberal government's cap and trade emissions programs. Part of the overall approach to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act.

Coons' describes sections of the program as secretive and calls on the Liberals to be more accountable to the public with their plans. He joined with fellow NDP MLA's in a call to have the bill moved to an all party committee, where they will try to fix the flawed parts of the bill, and eliminate the secrecy surrounding the cap and trade system.

He outlined his concerns in Wednesday's edition of the Daily News.

'Secretive' climate change bill attacked
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pages one and three

The government's new cap and trade legislation is empty of details and riddled with secrecy, said North Coast MLA Gary Coons.

"I support cap and trade legislation," Coons said, "but I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a bill that our Information and Privacy Commissioner thinks is secretive and open to abuse by government and corporations."

British Columbia introduced the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Cap and Trade) Act last month and was the first province to authorize hard caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

The legislation will provide the framework to participate in the Western Climate Initiative cap and trade system currently under development.

However, Coons noted that David Loukidelis, the Information and Privacy Commissioner, has sent letters to the Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for Energy and Mines to express his concerns about section 36 of the Cap and Trade Act.

"When David Loukidelis says that a law is going to be bad for British Columbians, I sit up and listen," said Coons. "His job is to ensure the government stays accountable to the people of this province."

Coons said he is frustrated that the government is playing politics with climate change instead of working to solve the problem in a way that includes all British Columbians.

"It is really disappointing to me that I have to vote against this legislation. I want to be able to vote these sorts of measures into law, but this bill is setting up cap and trade to fail," said Coons.
"I'm not naive; I know that if you set up a situation where companies and government keep everything secret, out of the eyes of the public, you get a situation where lies and half-truths are told, and what needs to be done, isn't done," said Coons.

Cap and trade regulatory systems establish an overall cap or limit on emissions, while the "trade" part of the system allows regulated emitters to buy and sell emissions allowances or buy offset units. Those who can reduce emissions more efficiently are able to sell their surplus units to those who find it more challenging to do so. This system transfers emission reduction responsibility and management to emitters, while market forces help determine the distribution of reductions.

"Cap and trade programs have proven to be very difficult to design in a way that actually reduces emissions and provides incentives to companies to clean up their acts," Coons noted. "The most detailed part of this legislation is the section which outlines what the public won't be told. How can you have cap and trade legislation that doesn't tell the public what the caps are and how the government will regulate and enforce them? This might as well be called the corporate emission secrecy act."

Coons supported a motion made by New Democrat Environment Critic Shane Simpson to move the bill to an all-party committee for detailed review, in order to fix the flawed parts of the bill, and eliminate the secrecy surrounding the cap and trade system.

"If we are to achieve the goals that have been set forth in law by legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent in the year 2020, we don't need a good bill; we need a great bill," said Coons. "It must be ambitious, and it must be a bill that's supported on both sides of the House and by the vast majority of British Columbians."