I’ve always felt strongly that one of my greatest strengths as a writer and political commentator, is having grown up in the north. I was born in Prince George, and grew up among the pine and spruce forests in a rural area north of the city, up on ‘the Hart’ - in fact, I spent my childhood playing among the very trees, lakes and rivers that I now find myself trying to save.
Since making my home on the west coast, I’ve come to see what a different perspective that background brings to the table, one distinctly coloured by my upbringing. I think in my recent trip home for a week on spring break, it really struck me how deep my roots are, and how a sudden surge of outrage at the state of my hometown confirmed the need for more accountability from all levels of government.
First of all, I write this from the heart, that is my disclosure. I was brought to tears more than a few times during this trip simply from seeing the horrific state of some parts of my home town. I have not been home for over 4 years - it is not easy travelling by vehicle with my son with special needs who has a hard time sitting still for 15 minutes, nor adapts well to rapid changes in environment - the main reason for not being home in so long when the driving time is 8 hours plus. So my view of Prince George after so much time, I think is an accurate view of what a stranger might encounter driving through the main highway in PG.
I must stop now, to say, nearly every politician in Prince George- municipal or provincial- should be incredibly ashamed of themselves to allow this fine, historical city to have declined in such a matter. I have always felt politicians should set the example, the standard, by which we strive to follow. Again, sadly, those who govern and represent Prince George have failed on many levels for nearly a decade.
It was the best friend of my father, who remarked during an afternoon of drinks and conversation, that it doesn’t matter which direction you come from into the city, the four corners – east ,west, north or south – give visitors entering the city nothing even remotely attractive or inviting. Nothing to tease you, tempt you into the city, to look beyond the main streets and entice visitors or prospective residents, to stay. Nothing at all. Quite frankly, it’s ugly.
Sorry to say that, but there is nothing appealing on any of the main entrances to Prince George to make anyone want to stay and do business, move their families to, or even look beyond to find the gleaming jewels I know exist in what should be the great city of the north.
Doing what any tourist might, I stopped at the Mr. PG tourist info spot, which is waaaayyy past it’s expiry date. The centre is closed in winter, but clearly hasn’t been even painted in a long time, peeling and ugly, and Mr. PG is looking a little like Mr. toss it out and not something to be proud of. And I am not quite sure why the men in wheelchairs are hanging from his arms like this… but if that is supposed to indicate the current Man in Motion tour, it fails badly… quite embarrassing.
It was on a cold, gorgeously sunny and clear morning that I headed down to the Opinion 250 studios to speak live with radio (and PG ) legend Ben Meisner - we talked about the state of the city on and off air.
Ben has been a wonderful friend to the city of Prince George. “Hey kiddo, I have to nuke this coffee since I got it twenty minutes ago.” he said when I arrived. And then we talked off air for a while and in between breaks. Like myself, Ben wants to do right by the city, wants to see it grow and prosper as it should be, not decline year after year into a dirty city where empty buildings and homelessness rule the downtown core.
For those of you not in the know, for years the city was governed by city sponge Colin Kinsley- known notoriously now, as the face for Enbridge. Hey, we all have to make a living, and pay the bills, I guess but that pipeline isn’t going to do jack for this province and Kinsley knows it. He did little for the town and it shows.
Colin Kinsley was succeeded by Dan Rogers, a long time media personality in the north, ie., name recognition, took him far and in the last election he replaced Enbridge sellout Kinsley who did not run, and who clearly had found greener pastures in Enbridges back pocket…
In speaking with many from P.G. it seems they had high hopes Dan would and could change things,but in hindsight those same people think Kinsley did better overall. Sadly, Dan had a penchant for sitting on fences, an uninspiring habit that came back to bite him in the last election when one term councillor, Sheri Green took the vote to win mayor with, I am told, only 29% of eligible voters being inspired enough at this point,to vote.
I am not kidding, nor could I be more disheartened. Green appears to many to be an opportunist with questionable motives, representing business in downtown only, some say, because she owns a business down there. She spent more, per capita, than Barack Obama, in her campaign… $81,000.00, for a city with a population of no more than 75,000, give or take - which speaks volumes. She basically spent a dollar for every person in town and still only attracted a tiny vote to win. But even on that scale, as we all know, that kind of financial business support does not come without a cost. Or a reward. Look at Campbell’s time in power and where he is now…
Back to PG. We know that the severe mismanagement of forestry thanks to the Campbell/Clark administration, resulted in mills being closed, clear cuts not being reforested and a host of other issues that left the town and it’s residents in turmoil financially. People began leaving for jobs elsewhere, families broken up, crime rocketed and gangs became more powerful. UNBC did little for the community, certainly not what it was hoped the university could do to attract people to stay.
So here we are now, 2012, and the town looks like it is dying and frankly, the new mayor is quickly making some very questionable choices and being anything but transparent about them. She seems to think money grows on trees and in my opinion,shows little fiscal understanding,all while spouting a lot of the same political rhetoric that sounds eerily like Christy Clark – which bodes ill for the people of Prince George, and myself, who as a proud P.G. girl, can’t understand why so many mayors and council could sit back and let the town turn into what it has.
Ben Meisner and Peter Ewart have been doing a fine job of keeping on every development, asking very pointed questions of her actions, and demanding the very accountability the mayor campaigned on! The result? Her media rep contacted Ben to tell him the mayor would no longer answer his questions, comment or even reply to his publication and show.
Transparent indeed. This shortsighted move by the mayor, resulted in one of the best Friday Free for alls on Bens show, the day after I joined him in studio, his editorial and commentary rousing me to jump up and clap in my chair at home. How childish of the mayor. How adolescent of the mayor, who I have heard described more than a few times by townspeople as being ambitious to further her own public persona and importance, rather than getting down to work as the mayor for ” the regular people”in town.
While vital infrastructure in the city has been long ignored and suffering severely, Sheri Green has been a very big part, even in her previous role as councillor, in spending taxpayers money on big ticket items at the expense of needed city upgrades. The state of the streets in Prince George is unbelievable. Potholes so big no one can even consider a small vehicle which could be lost inside of one and never seen again! I’m not kidding, it is the running joke of every resident and a sore spot when people have to pay for busted tires, axles, etc. after driving into one. The city budget for snow removal and road repair is at a shortfall, and yet no one seems to be able to explain why.
Green campaigned that she was going to cut expenses, but that she wouldn’t lay people off to do that, however shortly after she won, she laid off 9 people and didn’t fill several other vacant positions. She did, however, hire a personal assistant without posting the position, nor will she reveal the amount this person is being paid - all very suspect when it was reported that the city has had a staffer already dedicated to assisting the mayor!
She campaigned on accountability and council leading by example, then refused to talk about the wage of this assistant, she campaigned on fiscal prudence and immediately pushed for a core review at a cost of $350,000…nearly as much as the city of Toronto. Don’t even get me started about the bidding process on this one, and why the hell the mayor would even consider that crazy price tag is even close to a proper amount to spend on a core review of a city with a population of less than 80,000 people.
Peter Ewart has done exception reporting on this issue alone and asks so many questions the mayor can’t or won’t answer I wonder why the people of PG aren’t protesting outside her office. But even horrific over spending on a review that is aimed at cutting costs( ??) isn’t the worst of it.
The city is trying very hard to get public approval to borrow over 3 million dollars to build a dike along the river- a questionable move by many when city infrastructure is crumbling around them. The Nechako river freezes entirely to the bottom in some areas over winter, the river having become so shallow. Many residents feel dredging the main channel will alleviate any flood risk for many years, but that option is not on the table with the city.
The city is also pushing for a new performing arts center, another questionable expenditure slated for construction in 2014. A new police station is being built at $40 million plus-with no parking on site… I could go on, but it might make me sick.
I’m left shaking my head. Seriously, in this town the best thing to do would be to get back to basics and take care of the vital infrastructure that is essential, essential to those residents paying taxes. Fix the roads properly, the sewers, the core services that everyone depends on. Show some community pride in ownership,set an example that those running the city actually do care about the damn town, and make the city appealing to those visitors, businesses and families they would like to attract.
This isn’t a rich town, and the people that have dedicated their lives to working in the mills and forests, are the people who make the backbone of this province up.The revenue from this area has traditionally been the engine that has helped the province pay for medicare, hospitals, transportation, and where did it get them? The people in this area have been abandoned in many cases, by those who gained the most from their hard work, and many have just given up on anyone new doing anything different than those before them. And to me, that is not acceptable.
Rather than making decisions that might be traced back to benefitting the very few rather than the majority of residents, the city needs to make decisions that are innovative and focus on what Prince George has to offer. Yes, a grand new performing arts centre sounds lovely on paper, but is that what the city needs to fix what is wrong? No. Did the city really and truly need a new RCMP station, right in the downtown core they allegedly want to rejuvenate? No. And as I mentioned above, it starts with pride. Smithers has it, Quesnel has it, there is no reason Prince George can’t strive for similar efforts.
And if you are reading Ms. Green? As someone who appears to walk the same walk, and talk the same talk as our rapidly disintegrating premier, you might want to take a look at where not talking to media has gotten Christy Clark. Not very far.
Tomorrow, check back for part II : The beauty of PG most people will never get to see unless the city changes the course they are on NOW. Photo highlights of my trip back home.