While wildfires in the Cariboo-Chilcotin have been raging, the new NDP government in British Columbia is setting up in preparation for when the Legislature sits in the fall. In the meantime, the BC Liberal Party has seen a shake up.
Former premier and Liberal Party leader, Christy Clark resigned on July 28, while a shadow cabinet was announced less than one week later.
The Free Press sat down with Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA, Liberal Donna Barnett, for her comments on both.
As part of the shadow cabinet, Barnett was named critic for rural development, under the ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, as the new government does not have a Ministry of Rural Development.
“Really and truly I am pleased to have that portfolio because rural British Columbia is my forte,” says Barnett. “I was the first minister of state for rural development ever. I had a great program, put a great strategy together and unfortunately when you have a government that really doesn’t care about rural British Columbia it’s all gone.”
Barnett says that currently, she is focussed onn the wildfires.
“For this riding and for my colleague’s riding south of me and possibly my colleague’s riding north of me, there is going to be needed a lot of government help, a lot of financial help,” she says.
“We don’t need task forces, we don’t need studies, we need dollars and cents for our ranchers and our logging community,” she says.
Barnett points to ranchers, the logging community and mines as issues that will face the region and rural B.C.
“If we don’t get some new development, who is going to feed our families? So it’s a huge issue. Once we get through these fires, once the House sits, when we get back to Victoria and Question Period, we will be asking many questions. My first question is what does rural development mean to the government?”
Barnett says her goal as the critic for rural development will be to ensure that rural B.C. gets their “fair share.”
“When rural British Columbia needs help, that the help will be there. Not with a welfare cheque but with something to help us create new industries and to give better education, higher education in our universities,” she says.
“We don’t need studies, we know what we need and we’re going to need an awful lot more once these wildfires are over.”
While Barnett says she has no problem working with anybody, she has little tolerance for inaction.
“Don’t tell me you are going to send me a letter, don’t tell me you are going to put together a strategic team out of Victoria or Vancouver. The people that have been into this on the ground are the people who need to put together any type of a plan.”
While Barnett says she has had calls from different ministers since the wildfires have started, she says she is upset about the lack of visits to the community.
“If you saw the devastation that I’ve seen in the Chilcotin — you cannot believe it until you walk it.”
She says she would like to see the government answer her questions, particularly in regard to providing ranchers assistance with anything from fencing to feed, and loggers when it comes to logging burned forests.
“Don’t send me any type of planners; listen to the people here. I listen to them and it’s my job to deliver their message,” she says.
As for Christy Clark’s resignation, Barnett says she was shocked.
“I wasn’t there. I was not at the caucus meeting. When I got the word was when I got a phone call from the radio station and I was actually in the arena looking for a set of diapers for a family with United Way. I was shocked. I am sad to see her go,” she says.
“Everybody picks on the leader. She was a very smart lady. She was graceful and she cares about people.”
Barnett says Clark’s legacy will include establishing the ferry route from Port Hardy to Bella Coola, her relationships with First Nations, her work with LNG and her ability to create economic growth.
“We were number one in jobs, number one in economic growth, so how can you do more than that as a premier.”
Barnett laughed when asked if she would run for leadership of the BC Liberal Party.
“Not in my lifetime. I know who isn’t going to run, me.”
She does say, however, that it will be important to choose a leader with the ability to win the next election.
“That person has to have the knowledge of the whole province of B.C. You can’t just be an urbanite or a ruralite. You have to work with both as our past premiers have always done.”
Otherwise, Barnett says she hasn’t taken part in those discussions.
“Time will tell who is going to run. I haven’t been engaged in that conversation because I’m more worried about the Cariboo Chilcotin and humanity than I am about leadership.”