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Prince George-Mackenzie NDP candidate believes ‘stronger voice’ is needed for rural communities

Joan Atkinson ready to take on challenge of running in pro-Liberal riding

“I will work hard for everyone and my past experience clearly demonstrates that I am the best candidate for the role of MLA for Prince George-Mackenzie.”

That’s from Joan Atkinson, who’s officially begun her campaign as the BC NDP’s 2020 election candidate for the Prince George-Mackenzie riding.

She comes into the provincial race with an extensive resume that includes 18 years experience as a B.C. government employee, a member of several local and regional committees and, currently, she sits as the Mayor of Mackenzie since 2018.

The wife and mother of two says NDP Leader John Horgan called her to specifically wave the orange banner in what is arguably one of the toughest ridings to win if not a candidate for the Liberals.

“I think the north and rural communities need a stronger voice in Victoria and I will be the person to do that for everyone,” Atkinson explained, then was asked by PrinceGeorgeMatters if she felt her community profile, which includes a 2005 Mackenzie Volunteer of the Year award, would act as an advantage in the election.

“I certainly know the day-to-day concerns because I’m there living with the constituents and for the past eight months, I’ve spent considerable time working on the Timber Supply Area Coalition group and that has broadened by contacts with executive of industry in the province, the Ministry of Forests executive team, the First Nations and the union leaders. So it’s given me a well-rounded exposure to all of those people that are critical in moving our region forward and moving the province forward.”

Since an election was called on Monday (Sept. 21), it has been met with scrutiny by B.C. political parties and residents and asked the question of having one during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Decision Day is slated for Saturday, Oct. 24.

Atkinson says she fully supported Horgan’s decision, claiming a minority government, at this point, isn’t enough to move the province in the right direction.

“I have never been a strong partisan supporter. Instead, I’ve always voted for the best leader,” she noted in her address to a crowd of more than a dozen people in Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park this afternoon (Sept. 25).

“A strong and effective government needs a strong leader and John Horgan has clearly demonstrated he is the best person to move our province forward in these unprecedented times. The leadership demonstrated by the NDP government during this pandemic has been a model for the world.”

In stating her campaign’s mandate, Atkinson touched on the collapse of industry in her community and in the region, particularly forestry.

She also pointed to mental health and addictions, calling on more support needed during the opioid crisis, which brought a light on Prince George and its need for adequate housing for the homeless.

When it comes to rural communities, Atkinson stressed more high-speed internet connectivity to provide equal opportunity.

“Adequate services ensure community safety and that is important to all of us. COVID-19 has certainly highlighted the immediate need for better access to high-speed internet for both rural and urban centres. With access to high-speed internet, rural students will enjoy the same educational advantages as students in more urban centres, but this will require more investment from the provincial and federal government.”

With COVID-19 in the mix, candidates’ chances of participating in town halls or debates may be slim. None are currently scheduled for either of Prince George’s provincial ridings.

Atkinson believes there will be opportunities to have a debate of some sorts with her fellow candidates as she hopes to end the Liberals’ 19-year reign in Prince George-Mackenzie. 

“I’m in it to win. I recognize the challenge that Prince George-Mackenzie has been an MLA stronghold for the last decade-plus, but I think people are ready for a change and I know my community is ready for a change. I recognize I have an uphill battle, but I’m ready to overcome that battle.”

Atkinson has been part of the Mackenzie community since she moved the district in 1997 and has been a member of its council since 2007.

Thus far, she is one of three known candidates in the riding: current two-term MLA Mike Morris for the BC Liberals and Raymond Rodgers for the BC Libertarian Party.