BY BILL PHILLIPS
Premier John Horgan had a couple of main messages for attendees at the B.C. Natural Resources Forum Wednesday.
His first message to the room full of resource company executives was that the new NDP government does support development with one caveat.
“We do have a bright future, but that future has to include all British Columbians,” he said. “When I say that, I’m speaking specifically to our First Nations. If we do not have real and genuine partnerships with the Indigenous people of this province, we will continue to have challenges on the land base.”
He added governments cannot ignore Supreme Court decisions when it comes to Indigenous people, which was also one of the messages from Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde earlier in the day who said legislative changes in Canada have not kept pace with judicial ones.
The speech marked Horgan’s six-month anniversary as premier and the most difficult and controversial decision in that short time period has to be the government’s decision to proceed with the Site C dam.
Horgan said since making the decision been getting lots of feedback saying it was the right decision.
“It was a difficult decision for our new government to make but it was an important one to demonstrate to British Columbia that although we are new to the halls of power, we do understand that if we are going to be successful we have to be open and transparent about how we make decisions and we have to provide confidence, not just to the investment community, but to Indigenous communities, workers and communities like Prince George.”
Forestry has experience was only can be described as a “bad run,” he said, citing the softwood lumber agreement, mountain pine beetle epidemic, spruce bud worm epidemic, and the worst fire season on record.
“But despite that, our forest industry continues to be an employer in communities like Prince George, continues to provide tax revenue so we can build schools and provide services and it continues to be an iconic industry in British Columbia that has as bright a future as a glorious past.”
In November, Forest Minister Doug Donaldson headed up the largest trade mission ever to China and Japan and Horgan will head to Asia later this year to promote trade.
“We have to roll up our sleeves, like we’ve always done, and find new markets,” he said.
Horgan quoted the World Risk Report which ranked British Columbia No. 1 in the world for investment.
“If we are going to continue to be looked upon by others, as a welcome place for investment, we have to make sure that we work together cooperatively,” he said.
And for those who worry that the new NDP government will drive investment and jobs out of the province, Horgan pointed to a creation of the previous NDP government, the Oil and Gas Commission.
“There is this mythology that those on (the NDP side) are opposed to resources industries, or opposed to natural gas, or are opposed to mining, or are opposed to forestry,” he said. “It just isn’t true. The best example I can think of is the creation of the Oil and Gas Commission, which unleashed the enormous potential of the Peace country.”
Another main message from Horgan’s speech was that even though last year’s election left the NDP with only a sparse number of MLAs outside the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, Interior issues will not be ignored.
“I believe that the urban and rural divide issue is designed to divide British Columbians and it’s my commitment to British Columbians that my government will focus on uniting British Columbians,” he said. “It’s my view that there is not a divide that we cannot bring together.”
He said he was confident that Liberal MLAs Shirley Bond, Mike Morris, and John Rustad will represent Prince George’s interests in the Legislature.
“The notion that we all dislike each other intensely, is just not true.”
Horgan said he has met with northern mayors and other leaders to learn what the issues are in the Interior.
“I believe the way to get around the lack of representation is to make sure that the relationships that I build are genuine and sincere,” he said.