BY BILL PHILLIPS
Jody Wilson-Raybould wasn’t the only one who got new marching papers from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau January 14.
On that day when Wilson-Raybould got moved to Veteran’s Affairs, setting off a series of events that has since gripped the nation, Bernadette Jordan was named the nation’s new minister of rural and economic development. Since then she has, pretty much, been visiting rural areas around the country and on Thursday was in Prince George.
Her tour around the country has kept her away from the spotlight that is shining on the capital right now and she wants to focus on her new portfolio.
“One of the things that I’m focusing on is jobs,” she said. “That’s something that our government focuses on. Jody Wilson-Raybould appeared before committee, the prime minister has said he does not necessarily agree with her interpretation of events.”
She said she is a strong supporter of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and has had a good working relationship with him since being elected in 2015.
“For me, as the rural economic development minister, it behooves us to make sure we look after jobs, to make sure we protect jobs. For me, that’s what this comes down to.”
She said the Liberal government will continue focus on what it has for the past three-and-a-half years and for Jordan, she will be focusing on rural economic development.
“One of the main parts of my mandate is to develop a rural economic development strategy,” she said. “One of the things that I think is really important is to actually go to rural communities, to talk to municipal leaders, to talk to academics and industry and find out what the challenges are to growth. How do we keep our rural economy vibrant?”
She met with staff at UNBC, municipal leaders, and IMSS during her stop here. She pointed to the university’s rural research as a valuable information piece.
“They talk about the social implications of development, not just having the physical infrastructure in place but having things like housing and child care,” she said. “You can’t grow an economy if you don’t have access to things like transportation, health and social supports.”
The other, of course, is access to broadband services which, Jordan says, is an issue in rural areas across the country, not just northern B.C.
“It’s really important that we have those coverages so businesses can continue to grow,” she said.
Coincidentally, provincial minister of citizen’s services Jinny Sims will be in Prince George Friday announcing funding for more broadband services in the North. Jordan said the federal and provincial governments can dovetail services, as there may be overlaps in terms of jurisdiction.
“When we look at rural economic development we have to look at how we can all work together,” she said. “This is something that can’t be solved by just the federal government being involved.”
Broadband, she said, is an infrastructure piece, which the federal government can be involved with, similar to dealing with aging municipal infrastructure.
“Those are projects that we fund in cooperation with the provinces and the municipalities,” she said. “There is the ability for us to be involved … We’ve invested a lot in infrastructure. There’s all kinds of areas that we can be involved with financially.”
Another big piece of developing a rural economic strategy is finding a way to stop the flow of people from the rural areas to municipalities.
“That’s the big thing, an aging demographic as well as people who don’t see opportunities in rural areas,” she said. “That’s one of the things that I’m going to have to figure out … how do we keep our rural economies vibrant … Entrepreneurship is a big deal, how do we help people become entrepreneurs and stay.”
She said a culture shift may be needed as well where the message moves from “there’s nothing for me here,” to “how can I stay?”