Former Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone was in the Bulkley Valley Oct. 20 as part of a Northwest tour to garner support in his bid to become the next leader of the B.C. Liberal Party, making stops in Smithers and the Hazeltons before continuing on to Terrace, Kitimat and Prince Rupert.
He pointed to projects completed and underway in the valley as things he takes pride in during his time as Minister, including the Upper Skeena Recreation Centre under construction in Hazelton and the Highway 16 transit system that is now running between Hazelton and Prince George, with Kitimat and Terrace intending to join.
“That (Highway 16 transit) was a classic example of all the local governments, first nations, BC Transit, the provincial government, the health authority, everybody coming to the table and hammering out a solution that is now in place and continuing to evolve but is going to save lives,” said Stone.
“That’s probably one of my prouder achievements as the Transportation Minister over four-and-a-half years was getting that done.”
He described the Hazelton recreation centre as another example of working together.
“I was proud to play a small role in pulling the final pieces of funding. That was one of the few rec centres in the province that the Province invested in during our tenure, and it was something that I really went to bat for and again working with the mayors of the Hazeltons and the first nations … was able to secure some federal funding and secure enough provincial funding to make that all work,” he said.
“So actually going to the Hazeltons and announcing that project with the entire community present, including all the young children in their hockey jerseys was again one of the most heart-warming experiences of my time as the Minister … and a classic example of what is possible when everyone checks their partisanship at the door and focuses on what’s best for the community.”
Stone repeated the idea other leadership candidates have said about the results of the last election, that an economy doing well was not enough of a message from the Liberals. He said his sister’s book club helped explain why the NDP and Green Party got enough votes to take control of the government.
“They all voted for B.C. Liberals in the 2013 election, only my sister voted for B.C. Liberals in this last election. Her seven friends, for each of them it was a quality of life issue. They said, ‘sure we have a job but we are feeling like we’re falling a bit behind.’
“For one of them it was we weren’t creating child care spaces close enough to her house. For another it was she was struggling to look after her aging parents who have Alzheimer’s. And so I think as B.C. Liberals moving forward we have to do a better job at articulating investments that we have made and that represent a strong record on some fronts — we have the greatest health care investments per capita in this province and the best health care outcomes, for example,” he said.
“We don’t talk about that as best we should. Our students do better than almost any students in the world in math and science … As B.C. Liberals we’ve been very comfortable talking about balanced budgets and triple A credit ratings, and those are important but that’s the means to the end. The end is what are you able to do with that strong economy.”
Stone pointed to natural resource development including forestry, mining and getting the LNG industry to pick up as things he would like to see more of in the Northwest. He also pointed to his experience in the technology sector as a strength if he were to one day become Premier.
The Liberals choose their new leader in February. They recently held a candidates debate in Surrey. The second of six debates takes place in Prince George on Nov. 4.