With the ear of the premier, Mayor Ackerman discusses local matters

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Mayor Lori Ackerman met with Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Bruce Ralston during their short visit to Fort St. John and the Site C construction site this week.

Ackerman raised issues that matter to northern residents and impact the wider world, including the city’s current status with Indigenous relations, the Taylor bridge, healthcare, police funding, and potential housing for Ukrainian refugees.

Most of the time, according to Ackerman, ministry staff and not the politicians themselves are hearing about these issues. An opportunity to speak with Horgan directly is uncommon and valuable, and there was no time to “beat around the bush.”

It was a good conversation, she said, where she “raised issues that were important to a lot of our organizations around Fort St. John. And he listened.”

A key issue that Ackerman approached with the premier and minister was healthcare in the north. 

“We talked about healthcare and we talked about the need for an audit of Northern Health,” Ackerman said.

“The reality is you should never be afraid of doing an audit on your programs. That’s where you find out what’s going well and what’s not going well. And maybe ideas on what could be done better.” 

Healthcare access and resources are a major concern in northern communities, including Fort St. John. She insisted on checking the system and solving existing problems to help residents get the necessary care.

“Our healthcare problems have been going on for a long time,” she explained. “And this is an opportunity to just say, you know what, we’ve had these problems, and we’re coming out of this pandemic now. Let’s take a look at a system that has been stressed and what we can do differently and how can we rise from the ashes.”

Healthcare, though a major topic of concern and an area that requires the ear of the province to seek action on, was not the sole conversation in the meeting.

Ackerman also took the opportunity to ensure that issues made it onto the table that, she knew, had yet to garner much attention at the provincial level – like the Taylor Bridge.

She also raised the issue of disparity in funding for municipal police.

The way the province currently funds policing through tax dollars applies different formulas to municipal residents and rural residents.

In an area like Fort St. John, where the municipal police cross the urban-rural divide–where municipal residents pay more for police than rural residents, but all receive the same services–this difference is “just wrong.” It’s a system, she said, that hasn’t changed in 20 years. 

Local issues like these matter to residents, but they can stretch far beyond the local sphere and impact the nation and the world. Some of these issues were brought up in the meeting, as well. 

The city’s current Indigenous relations strategy, specifically regarding the urban reserve plans in place with the Doig River First Nation, is one such matter.

Though some residents voiced concern about the arrangement, she said, the current plan lays out a tax strategy in which the reserves pay for the city services they use but not the ones they don’t, like election services or corporate human resources.

“It’s very finely tuned,” Ackerman said. 

“It’s actually an example that’s being used across Canada for a successful agreement.”

Ackerman also brought up the prospect of housing Ukrainian refugees in the city in her meeting with Horgan and Ralston.

It’s a matter close to many in the area: “We have a fairly significant Ukraine population on the Prairies and up here. I’m half Ukrainian,” Ackerman said. 

A representative from BC Hydro had mentioned that several larger units built by BC Housing for Site C workers sat empty. “So that’s why I thought, well, if they’re not being used here locally or by the BC Hydro project, then let’s make use of them with this need.” 

“A lot of people talk about being global citizens.” Ackerman said. “Well, if you’re going to talk that talk, you need to walk that walk.” 

Local matters can reach beyond the affected community – and they can provide help in the case of potentially housing Ukrainian refugees or providing a good example of Indigenous relations. They also need the help of the province to handle, like a healthcare audit, police funding, or bridge construction.

In all cases, during the meeting, Ackerman explained that she “gave [Horgan] some ideas on things that could be looked at… When you’ve got the ear of the premier, it’s important to lay out the realities of what’s going on.”

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