On a sunny afternoon, the passive solar heat could certainly be felt in the foyer of Energy House as those guests got up to the podium to speak. On his first visit to Dawson Creek, the Prime Minister spoke about how fitting it is for a region so abundant in energy resources to have a Centre for Excellence in Clean Energy Technology.
“Northeastern B.C. is known for both its stunning natural beauty and its abundant natural resources,” said the Prime Minister. “For more than six decades, this region has found prosperity in petroleum exploration and development. We are here today in B.C.’s energy hub because that focus has expanded to embrace new technologies and diversify for an even brighter future.”
Harper said Energy House is an example of how Canada is becoming “a clean energy superpower.” However, his government has been criticized on the international level for not taking a firmer stance on addressing climate change by cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. He responded to a question about his government’s record on addressing climate change by saying they have a three-pronged approach.
“Internationally, we’re working through the Copenhagen Agreement that has been signed on to by virtually every country in the world over the past couple of years,” said Harper. “We are working with the [U.S. President Barack] Obama administration on a continental strategy that at this point involves harmonizing a lot of energy emission regulations, and we’re making major investments here in Canada to ensure we will be a major producer of energy of all kinds.”
He added his government remains committed to having 90 per cent of the country’s power generation from non-emitting sources by 2020.
Harper also spoke to the importance of having a new training centre for health care professionals in Dawson Creek – the Health Sciences Building – which he noted will train 141 more nursing students in the region.
“With the upgrades at NLC, nursing students can get the advanced training they need in today’s high-tech healthcare system,” said the Prime Minister.
He said in terms of recruitment and retention of healthcare practitioners in northern communities, that responsibility is constitutionally the role of the provincial government. However, he did say this year’s federal budget did contain some specific incentives to encourage practitioners to relocate to remote, rural an underserved communities.
Premier Clark echoed many of the Prime Minister's comments – both noted how important each facility is in creating stable, long-term employment and skilled labour for the province and the country. Clark added the new facilities are an example of "a remarkable collaboration between industry, government and the community."
She also spoke to the importance of training new nurses and healthcare assistants right here in the Peace region.
“We know that when healthcare professionals train in the north, they stay in the north," said Clark.
However, the results of the University of Northern British Columbia's Northern Medical Programs Trust – a program that provides grant funding for doctors and nurses in training who complete their practicums in Northern British Columbia – seems to dispute that point. The CBC reported last month that only five of the 24 students who graduated in 2008 through that program actually stayed in the North to practice medicine, including only one in the Peace region.
However, the Premier said it is still a huge benefit for northern communities like Dawson Creek to have the facilities that allow young people to train closer to their homes, because moving to another community can often be a barrier for some to obtaining that education.
Laurie Rancourt, president of Northern Lights College, said the college was delighted to have the Prime Minister, Premier and representatives of all of the partnerships that helped to make Energy House and the Health Sciences Building possible on hand to help officially open the facilities.
“Energy House is a beautiful building that takes advantage of its natural environment and showcases the technology that will sustain it for many years ahead," said Rancourt. "We now have the facilities to create technicians, not only in wind turbine maintenance, but also in biomass, solar power and geothermal.”
“Our new Health Sciences Building is the foundation for our faculty and staff to develop new partnerships and collaborations in the healthcare field so that we can help ensure the citizens of this region will have a level of healthcare service that they need and deserve," she added.
The two facilities were funded through a federal-provincial Knowledge Infrastructure Program grant worth a total of over $8 million.