Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rumours of our boom appear to be greatly exaggerated

"Out there, there is this impression that Prince Rupert is a boom town and while we are really excited about where we are going and what we are going through we want to remind them of the very real issues we still face,"— Mayor Herb Pond outlining one of his key talking points as he prepares to take in the annual UBCM convention.

As the Mayor and council and city representatives make the annual pilgrimage to the UBCM convention, the topic of Rupert’s struggling economy is expected to take a central spot among the local delegation to Penticton.

With an unemployment rate at least twice as high as the rest of the province, the much anticipated boom times from the Port development haven’ t quite trickled down to the general population just yet and appear to be still a few years down the road.

With the stagnant economic situation having a major impact on many of the regions residents, there are many issues that are challenging both the population and civic government of the city.

From housing and homelessness, to welfare and unemployment insurance issues, as well as the many infrastructure needs that the city has, the city’s representatives hope to get their points across while they take in the five day convention.

The Mayor also has his usual list of transportation projects that he will bring forward, including his hopes to one day see the Tsimshian Access project move forward, the much discussed bridge connection to Digby Island airport and on to Metlakatla and Lax Kwala'ams. It’s a cause that he seems to be setting up as his main priority as far as local transportation development issues go.

Councillor Tony Briglio’s own road project, the Wantage Road bypass will also apparently be presented to the powers that be, described as a much desired option for the city as it contemplates growth associated with the Fairview Container Port.

In Thursday’s Daily News, he outlined the many points that he and his council hope to impress upon their fellow municipal and provincial counterparts at the convention.

Considering the much discussed relationships the Mayor has been cultivating over the last few years with the Provincial Government’s various officials, we wonder how it comes to pass that they need to be reminded so frequently of our current economic malaise and the impact that it is having on things such as education, business creation and the delivery of social services to our residents.

With the frequent contact that the Mayor and councilors have with the Premier and his Ministers regarding local developments, one begins to wonder just how tone deaf, or out of touch Victoria’s political class is with those areas once referred to by the Premier as: "The heartland”.

Perhaps Penticton will make for a helpful reminder, that not all parts of British Columbia are living in the super charged environment that Vancouver and Victoria exist in, and that the Campbell government may ignore them at their electoral peril.

The City’s travelling agenda was given a preview in Thursday’s Daily News as the front page, headline story

Mayor Herb Pond is eager to use UBCM platform to lobby for provincial support
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Pages one and three

Mayor Herb Pond is looking to bend the ear of provincial ministries representatives when he attends the Union of British Columbia Municipalities annual meeting next week.

Pond, along with other city hall representatives, will be focusing on transportation connection improvements to and from Prince Rupert when they arrive in Penticton.

"We have meetings with the premier and ministers and we will be raising many of our issues that we have discussed throughout the year," said Pond.

Pond said he would like to see the city's plan for the Tsimshian Access project move forward, building better transportation routes to the airport, Metlakatla and Lax Kwala'ams.

Homelessness and housing issues in Prince Rupert will also be important topics at the meeting. Councillor Joy Thorkelson has spoken in recent meetings about her concern about a potential spike in the city's homeless population due to a weak fishing industry.

There were only 500,000 fish caught by local fishermen this year out of possible 2.5 million, meaning some fishermen may end up on the street if something is not done, she said.

Prince Rupert's unemployed rate is twice the rate of the provincial average and city council has said in the past that it fears the 343 affordable housing units in town might not be enough.

When asked whether or not he was looking for direct funding totals from the provincial government, Pond said not at this point but he wanted to let the ministers attending the meeting know that Prince Rupert is struggling.

"Out there, there is this impression that Prince Rupert is a boom town and while we are really excited about where we are going and what we are going through we want to remind them of the very real issues we still face," said Pond.

Pond will tie-in the fishing industry when he speaks with B.C. minister of environment Barry Penner. He is looking to change the way the ministry deals with the North Coast's struggling industry.

"We want to talk to him about the fact that there are no strong advocates within the provincial system for commercial fishing.

"The provincial system has concern in the freshwater fisheries act but in a provincial system, nobody is really advocating out there for the commercial fishing industry and processing jobs," said Pond.

The city will also bring up the bypass it wants for Wantage Road, and be looking for provincial funding for the project.

Pond could not say who would be joining him from city council but he did say that he would like to have as many as possible, to bring a strong voice to the annual meeting.

"Where we can, we will partner with Port Edward and other communities to multiply our voice, so we can talk to the premier in a cluster of communities," said Pond.

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