B.C. NDP leader John Horgan has wrapped up a trip via motorhome from Prince Rupert to Prince George and says affordability, health care and resource development were the top three issues raised by those he met during the nearly week-long trip.
Campsite fees have gone up, as have vehicle insurance premiums, tuition fees, medical service premiums and electricity rates, Horgan said Monday and took Premier Christy Clark to task over the matter.
"It seemed everywhere people turn, costs are going up," he said. "So when I say 'camping,' they say 'well, yeah, yeah, yeah but why don't we talk about all these other issues?'
"It really drove home for me that although in the ads Christy Clark's put out she says the Liberals want to leave more money in peoples' pockets, they've been taking money out of peoples' pockets for the past five years for these other things, these incidentals that people have to pay."
Horgan said the only tax break Clark has given during her time as premier went to the province's top two per cent of earners - those taking in more than $150,000 - and it has added up to $235 million a year
"Over four years, that's a billion dollars," Horgan said. "We could do a lot with a billion dollars. You can hire a lot of nurses for a billion dollars. You can stop closing schools with a billion dollars. You can start investing in critical infrastructure."
As for health care, Horgan said those in more isolated communities, such as Smithers and Terrace "and even in Prince Rupert," people are concerned that their services are eroding and costs are continuing to go up. He noted that in Terrace, local politicians have learned an upgrade to that community's hospital, now 55 years old, is not even in the province's 10-year capital plan.
Whenever he meets with Northern Health officials, Horgan said he hears a familiar tune - that the authority is limited in what it can do by the amount of funding it receives from the Ministry of Health.
"What happens with this authority versus ministry argument is if we ask the minister in the legislature 'why are you underfunding these issues?' he says it's all about health care," Horgan said. "When I sit down with the health authority, they say 'well, we can only do what we're given funding for,' so there's a lack of accountability because of the authority on one hand and the ministry on the other and that came home in spades particularly when I was in Terrace and Prince Rupert."
Regarding resource development, Horgan emphasized concerns over log exports and uncertainty over pipelines for oil and natural gas and said Clark has failed to deliver on her ambitions for liquified natural gas.
He said the NDP would work to add more value to the forest products the province produces and noted three caucus members have been appointed to the forestry file - one for the coast, one for the interior and one focussed on forest health.
"What investments are we making to insure we're going to have a sustainable forest sector into the future and what steps are we taking to make sure we have value added," Horgan said by way of outlining their task.
Smaller companies that can provide the greatest number of jobs per cubic metre need more access to fibre, he added.
Horgan accused Clark of "being silent" on the ongoing Canada-U.S. negotiations for a new softwood lumber agreement and industry leaders are concerned about that. He said Canada must work to prevent the U.S. from using its market dominance to impose unfair tariffs.
Simply rolling over the existing agreement "would be a desirable outcome, but you always want to improve your position and again I don't get the sense that the government has put the effort into this that past governments have."
Horgan arrived in Prince George on Saturday and in time to throw out the ceremonial first pitch during the championship game at the World Baseball Challenge. He also visited the B.C. Northern Exhibition where he checked out the 4-H entries.
"That's not the usual politics and that was the fun part of it," Horgan said of touring Highway 16 West in a motorhome. "It's not a private jet, the premier travels in a private jet. (I'm) traveling in a Winnebago going to community fairs and talking to First Nations and community leaders and I think it was a bit unique for the 21st century and I'm hoping I can do more of it in the future."
The entire NDP caucus gathered in Prince George on Monday for a meeting.