Nanaimo served up the tastiest tour stop for Premier Christy Clark’s sweep of the central Island Tuesday as dozens of Liberal supporters and a handful of candidates descended on Commercial Street’s Mon Petit Choux bakery and coffee shop.
“I’m here for the Nanaimo bars,” quipped Clark as she immediately mixed with the applauding crowd on the sun-drenched sidewalk.
She didn’t have to wait long as Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan greeted her with an oversize Nanaimo bar presented in a cream coloured box and a pink ribbon, a gift Clark guarded even from her staff, along with a curiously larger gift from shop owners Gaetan Brousseau and Linda Allen.
Hands firmly gripping treats, Clark said that the Liberal’s resource-heavy jobs plan will significantly benefit the mid-Island area as forestry begins to perk up and overseas markets increase demand for South Coast wood.
“Forestry has huge prospects for Vancouver Island, and not just in the traditional way we think of forestry,” Clark told the News Bulletin in the bakery’s kitchen. “We’re investing in more research and innovation, in wood fibre and different ways to use fibre, so we can see some real innovative businesses come out of the forest sector here.”
Clark added that the Liberals are doubling their sales force in Asia, mostly China and India, to increase tourism with Vancouver Island as one of the key attractions, and that will be coupled with attracting not only tourists but international students who want to study here, take their knowledge back to their respective country and build connections between the resource sector here and thirsty markets overseas.
“It’s wrong to think of international education as just an education product,” said Clark. “There is also tourism and the spending that adds to our economy. We’re also making a big push on organic agriculture, agriculture and on seafood in particular. There is a huge appetite for what we produce here partly because in Asia people are really concerned about the quality and safety of the food that they’re eating. Our B.C. brand is golden in Asia.”
Clark began the day at the site of a new health care facility in Courtenay before making an appearance in Parksville with rookie Liberal candidate Michelle Stilwell, who is trying to keep the seat retiring Liberal MLA Ron Cantelon has held since 2005. Nanaimo Liberal candidate Walt Anderson and Nanaimo-North Cowichan Liberal candidate Amanda Jacobson were also at Mon Petit Choux to support Clark, who introduced herself to every one of the three dozen or so people there to see her.
Touching back on forestry, Clark said raw log exports will remain a reality until markets, including the U.S. housing and commercial markets, pick up again.
“None of us want to export logs but the thing is you can keep people working in the woods instead of putting everybody out of work which is why we continue to do it. We want to make sure we are opening those markets for our manufactured wood. The upside is we’re starting to see fibre prices go up and I think they’ll be going up for a long time.”
Over the last decade, since B.C. made a strong push to export wood to China, that market has seen a $1-billion increase in forestry exports to China.
“We can do the same thing in India,” said Clark.
Still in the kitchen, the premier panned the NDP’s proposal to cut B.C. Ferries by $40 million and then to review it “after it’s too late.” NDP leader Adrian Dix announced earlier this week that, if elected, he would freeze ferry fare rate increases. Clark said B.C. Ferries has been struggling with a debt that began in the 1990s, and that the corporation now pays $72 million annually on debt interest alone. Last year, the provincial government subsidized B.C. Ferries with $180 million, a figure Clark said is unsustainable if the service continues to carry its current debt load.
“The only way to keep B.C. Ferries sustainable is to pay down their debt,” said Clark. “When I say I want to create a debt-free B.C. I mean the debt our government is carrying, I mean the debt B.C. Ferries is carrying. We can’t keep that corporation sustainable, it’s going to crumble under the weight of its debt. The NDP has come up with a plan that might last them until a week after the election, we want to come up with a long-term plan.”
With that, the premier posed briefly with her Nanaimo bar for photographers, considered taking a bite then reconsidered, and sifted her way through the crowd to prepare for her next stop.