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News commentary
By Barry ONeill

There now are two British Columbias. One is rich and getting richer off the back of the other. There is City B.C. where the stockbrokers live and the media keep telling us things are booming. Then there is Small Town B.C. where our rural citizens are starting to realize that the Campbell Liberals have all but forgotten them.

On May 2-4, about 150 mayors, councillors and administrators from that other B.C. will meet in Quesnel to talk about this New Era reality at the North Central Municipal Association annual meeting and conference.

Some of those attending may still be lulled into complacency by the Campbell Liberals, but many others have seen the penny drop and are no longer interested in rubber stamping the New Era agenda.

The love affair with the Campbell agenda is over, one municipal councillor told me last week while I was traveling the northwest on the final leg of my Strong Communities tour.

From what I hear some of those attending the meeting will no longer accept a Liberal whitewash. They know it makes them complicit in a plan that will see more local businesses boarded up, more homes for sale and more towns threatened with extinction.

Knowing their attitude and the way they are doing things in Victoria, Im not encouraged, one city administrator told me. Weve been agitating for years to decentralize services to rural communities. ICBC could be here. Its all communications now. It doesnt matter whether its in the Lower Mainland or here. We need a better deal from Victoria. Were tired of subsidizing the Lower Mainland.

To back up his case, he cited an April 24 article in the Terrace Standard by Vancouver demographer David Baxter. The economic base of the province is in serious trouble, Baxter wrote. The regions that are losing population, where 17 per cent of the population lives, are regions that are disproportionately supporting the other 83 per cent of us.

One suggestion I would make to local politicians attending the Quesnel meeting is that they demand a referendum on the selling of B.C. Hydro. If they can do it with treaty rights and whip up a racist backlash, why not with the provinces richest asset.

Surely citizens should have a say in an economic decision that will undoubtedly lead to higher energy costs for every household and small business. This time lets make sure the questions arent biased in favour of the Campbell Liberal agenda.

Local politicians should also be telling the Quesnel conference that people are in basic survival mode in the north. As one CUPE worker told me, People arent anxious, they are desperate. They are already run ragged. Weve always had people here who dont have enough food, but now there are more, way more. Even some logging families dont have enough food.

The politicians should tell Gordon Campbell, when he addresses the conference on May 4 at a luncheon sponsored by West Coast Energy, that people are struggling in the north. Women and children are falling through the gaping cracks created by his policies.

They should tell the premier that holding a telethon, as MLA Roger Harris advised some community service workers in Terrace, is not the kind of answer that endears northerners to his governments concept of helping the needy, the children and the disadvantaged.

At the Refreshment Breaks sponsored by Telus, perhaps some delegates will tell Liberal MLAs that when people are oppressed by bad public policies, street and family violence increase, as they will in the north.

Perhaps during the luncheon sponsored by B.C. Gas, the corporation trying to snag contracts to run water systems on Vancouver Island, delegates will mention in passing that murders are on the rise.

Maybe someone will think to ask George Abbott, minister of community, aboriginal and womens services, to justify once more why he cut funding to the audiobooks program for the visually impaired. In a letter to the Vancouver Sun on April 20, he said it was because commercially produced talking books now were available. More justification in the name of privatization.

And maybe after the session entitled A taste of the South Pacific, sponsored by Shaw Cable, there could be room for a brief discussion about how the north is closing schools even though the percentage of students who fail to graduate is 50 per cent higher than the provincial average, even though test scores are lower than average.

Port Edward mayor Ed Wample had the right idea last week when he threatened to go in with sledgehammers if anyone tried to close the local school. The school was saved but the mayor may want to tuck his sledgehammer into the trunk when he goes to Quesnel this week. He may need it there.

I note that the Grand Prize at the conference is donated by Air Canada Regional. Perhaps that is fitting given that it will probably be two free plane tickets out of the destitute northwest region of our province.


Barry ONeill is president of CUPE BC.