The NDP’s economic development critic Shane Simpson is touring the Kootenays this week. He will spend time in Nelson, Trail, Castlegar and Cranbrook over the course of his four-day trip.
“Our focus is looking at how we maximize opportunities around job creation. So much is being done right now around economic activity, but without the job creation we want,” said Simpson, who represents Vancouver-Hastings.
On Monday afternoon, Tom Thomson of the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce hosted Simpson along with Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall and Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy. Representatives from a number of local agencies, including Community Futures, were in attendance.
“Having the ear of the government is one thing,” said Thomson. “But having the ear of the opposition is also important. We jump at any opportunity to let people know about our concerns surrounding economic development.”
Simpson said getting a sense of things from the ground is essential, especially because his riding is radically different from the small and rural communities in the West Kootenay.
“Everything is different in different places,” he said. “In the Kootenays it’s okay, the mines are operating. But in Tumbler Ridge they’ve got them all shut down. We need to determine what does it mean, this global price of oil collapsing, and how is that affecting our economy on the ground?”
Simpson said much of the visit will be focused on listening.
“I’m going in to listen, to talk about where the opportunities might be and look at how government can best support initiatives out there and talk about the challenges,” he said.
Simpson said the current government’s development strategy is inadequate.
“We really want to talk about the shortcomings of this government. First of all, the unrealistic expectations they’ve put on LNG (liquid natural gas),” he said, noting that gas is being pushed at the expense of other industries that could use a boost.
“Let’s continue to pursue LNG, but it can’t continue to be a big expense,” he said.
Thomson said he’s particularly pleased the chamber had an opportunity to talk about transportation.
“We need reliable air access in and out of the region. We need reliable and safe transportation on the highways and throughout the Okanagan,” he said, noting again that the West Kootenay Regional Airport is an ongoing concern.
They also talked about the implications of the potential rise in minimum wage.
“Any time you go from where it is right now to $15, as proposed, that would have a significant impact on the profitability of businesses,” Thomson said.
“It has a ratcheting effect that goes all through the system to the higher levels. Our concern is that needs to be taken into account.”
Thomson said skills training was another important topic broached. Simpson expressed concern that British Columbians are not getting education adequate to qualify them for jobs coming in the future.
“Is enough being done by the government to open these doors? Particularly if we’re going to be building these huge projects, do we have the infrastructure to train young people so those jobs go to British Columbians? That’s not the case today, but hopefully it will be,” Simpson said.
Thomson said the government has a number of great training programs, including one the chamber is utilizing as part of their CPR station revitalization project in Railtown, in which they’ve been given six workers paid by the government who will learn about timber framing on the job.
As part of the trip, Simpson will visit Selkirk College in Castlegar. He will also be meeting with labour councils in the area.
“My plan is to go back and be as informed as I can be when talking to the Liberal government. We want to lay out a direction and make sure that direction makes sense.”