Since 2011, David Wilks has represented the East Kootenay riding of Kootenay-Columbia for the Conservative party. If he wins re-election in the upcoming federal election, he will be the MP for Nelson, Salmo, and Kaslo as well.
That’s because those three towns were moved to the Kootenay-Columbia riding in an electoral boundaries redistribution in 2012.
In a recent interview with the Star, the former RCMP officer and former mayor of Sparwood said the most pressing national issues are the economy and national security.
Wilks said it is important for the government to keep up its support for Israel and the Ukraine, and for the fight against ISIS.
“That group, unlike any other, is very tenacious and they are going to keep coming, and some will say that is fear mongering, but until I am convinced otherwise, there will be a next time in Canada. It is not a matter of if, but of when. I look at it from a policing background. I personally would rather err on the side of caution and ensure we do our utmost to protect Canadians, than to look back and say we should have done something but we were worried about a perception.”
Wilks said people such as pipeline protesters need not worry about coming under the surveillance net because, “quoting Section 2 , the bill says it does not include lawful advocacy, dissent and artistic expression. To me, you have a right to protest, I have no problem with that.”
As for jobs and the economy, Wilks said, “We are a natural resource rich country, whether that be the oil sands, coal here in southeast part of BC, forestry in both the West and East Kootenays. We need to work on what our strengths are, and ours are natural resources. The challenge is that a lot of them are centred in the middle of the country and you have a challenge to move that product. If we look at oil, and we see the discontent from some Canadians with regard to pipelines, we have to find the most safe way to ship those goods because they are going to be shipped. We can’t just shut down an industry.”
Asked how climate change fits into that discussion, Wilks said, “The Prime Minister has found a balance with regards to natural resource extraction and the environment, and I believe that Canada is doing a very good job at working with its environmental issues.”
Wilks was asked about the tendency for Nelson to vote NDP and how that might affect his chances in the election.
“Certainly the numbers are not kind to the Conservative party in Nelson and I need to do some work there. I need to prove to people that you work with your member of parliament and everyone will have concerns with regard to political alliance, but at the end of the day you work with the MP that you have, regardless of party politics.”
Asked how he would describe Nelson, Wilks said, “I would describe Nelson as the centre for the West Kootenays from the perspective of provincial bureaucracy. It is the hub for the political agenda of the West Kootenays.”
The Kootenay-Columbia riding encompasses the province from Nelson to the Alberta border, and from Golden to the U.S. Border. Wilks said the concerns of the electorate vary in different parts of the riding.
“In the Golden-Revelstoke area, the main issue is the Trans-Canada Highway. We need to get that twinned,” he said.
“Little has been done to it since 1962 when the Rogers Pass opened and since that time traffic has increased exponentially and I continually bring this to cabinet for financial consideration.
“In the Elk Valley, Teck Coal is a world player in natural resource extraction. It has a huge impact not only on the national but also local economy.”
Wilks said tourism is an important part of the regional economy but it is facing challenges from the suspension of the temporary foreign worker program.
“Especially in the East Kootenay, some businesses are having significant difficulty. My job is to bring those concerns forward to the minister explaining that in some parts of Canada the program had a drastic effect on employment. It is not like these employers are not trying to find Canadians—they are, but it is a niche market, so those in the hotel industry are trying to find those that can tend to rooms, those in the restaurant business are looking for people that are going to work a demanding job at Tim Hortons and MacDonald’s, and those types of jobs, those are tough jobs.”
Asked if he subscribes to the opinions of some employer groups that young people in Canada are simply not willing to work at basic service jobs, Wilks said that with “with electronic devices and kids keeping busy in much different ways than they did even 15 to 20 years ago, that is a challenge. Sometimes we have to recognize that these jobs are specific to a price point as well for the employer. As much as a youth would like to get paid $20 per hour to work at A&W, the price point for the employer is not there.”
Wilks said that even though forestry is a provincial responsibility, the federal government can help, and he cited the regulation of chemicals that are used by a pole manufacturer in Galloway.
“I think a lot of people tend to forget that the forestry companies are probably the best shepherds of the land because they rely on it. If they treat it badly they are done, and they realize this,” Wilks said.
Wilks said one of his accomplishments as an MP has been to lobby for federal infrastructure money, helped by his experience as Sparwood’s mayor.
“Today in Sparwood I will be announcing $1.2 million for seniors housing for an expansion in Lilac Terrace in Sparwood, and then a purchase of 12 units in Fernie. We were able to put significant dollars into the new senior facility in Salmo a couple of years ago.”
Wilks says his favourite part of being an MP is “the interaction with people—sometimes you have to deal with difficult issues and give difficult answers that people don’t want to hear, but at the end of the the day you are trying to do the best you can.”
He said the biggest challenge is being away from his family.
“You are not home. If you are doing it right, you are not home. When the media outlets refer to MPs going home for break week, it is not a break week, it is a break from Ottawa. You are on all the time and you need to be. My wife and I have sat down and there is a vision in place, but you can not do this forever, that is for sure.”
In the 2011 election, with the old configuration of the Kootenay-Columbia riding, Wilks was elected with 50.09 per cent of the vote, while the NDP came second with 38.84 per cent. The Greens got 6.43 per cent, and the Liberals 1.16 per cent.