” Home is not where you live, but where they understand you…” ~ Christian Morgenstern

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 outside the city, 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.

21 thoughts on “” Home is not where you live, but where they understand you…” ~ Christian Morgenstern

  1. JPF

    A slight correction in the math…
    “…$81,000 + in her campaign, for a city with a population of no more than 75,000, give or take – which speaks volumes. She spent a grand for every person in town and still only attracted a tiny vote to win.”
    I would read this as $1 for every person in town. If it was a grand for every person in town it would be $81,000,000
    If she spent a grand for every person who voted for her then 81 people only voted…
    Other than that… I understand what you’re saying about PG – I lived there in the late 70’s.

  2. Laila

    Thanks JPF!! I went back and checked and see instead of posting the current version, I must have hit the earlier, unedited post! Chalk it up to lack of sleep from last nights storm!! Much appreciated for catching that !

  3. Ron Sward

    As a former PG resident, ever since I can remember the city has charlatans running the town. Anyone that had moral fiber and integrety was scorned and laughed at by the towns elite. I’m not surprised but very saddened that is has declined to this extent. I was raised and lived there until the mid 60’s and I am and was proud of the city. Too bad the currnet bunch of theives are ruinining it even more.

    1. Laila

      It is frustrating to me, as someone who grew up there,to go back and see this. It is unimaginably more frustrating for many who live there who are ignored or who have developed a sense of malaise from seeing nothing happen time and time again. I never understood why politicians think building big grand things is the answer to everything, when you have to start with the basics – in particular in a northern town. Down here we complain about potholes but really, you dont have a clue unless you go and see the roads there right now, and the same thing happens every single year. It has to be a priority to not simply patch them over and over, and they get bigger every year, but redoing many roads completely. And people like my dad, who pays over 2500 a year in property taxes, yet has no city water, sewer or garbage pickup, don’t see a darn thing from the city, and many are in the same boat who live on the outskirts of town.
      It’s just so shortsighted. But there is hope…I did talk to a really sharp lawyer who is going to run against Pat Bell, I believe, for the NDP, and he is on the same page as myself and many others, and there are a couple good councillors that try to keep the ship on course, but they need the people to get back into the city process. And there are a lot of wonderful and fun things to do there, but unfortunately for those people travelling through on the highway, you would likely never know about any of them!! That has to change to get people to come, to stay and to have something to keep them there besides employment.

    1. Laila

      I think for the most part you are right Curt. Pat Bell has forked over some cash for snowmobiling clubs in PG to upgrade cabins in the mountains used as shelters, which is helpful to that tourism aspect, which is something that is huge up there in winter, but I don’t see a lot of other initiatives by him or Bond that have made any substantial change to the community.

  4. Julie

    You are so right Laila.

    In the spring and summer, you drive through the little city of Quesnel, it is totally a pleasure to see the beautiful flowers, and the pride in their city, is in your face obvious.

    Going into Prince George, it is a dull, dirty city. That’s the first thing that hits you, how shabby and decrepit, this gate-way to the north city is. We know freighter after freighter of our raw logs go to China, and there is no reforestation. No doubt the mills in BC will be phased out. I’m not sure how many mills Campbell shipped to China. The mills were the life blood of central and northern BC.

    China also owns BC mines. They are sending their own people to school to learn English, to work their coal mines. If any of the seven mines going into northern BC are owned by China, they will bring their own people to work those mines too. China refuses to pay Canadian wages. I’m thinking, the workers Christy is importing, will be mostly Chinese.

    The other thing I read was. Harper is permitting China to buy up the oil sands. They are bringing their own people to work their vast oil sands holdings. They pay their own people, starvation wages. The same reason, they want to refine the oil in China. Cheap labor and even more cheap, is child labor.

    This is one of the many reasons, BC people will fight the Enbridge pipeline and the dirty oil tankers. China has been given enough of Canada and especially of BC. China and Harper can find another way, to send the worst polluting energy, to the worst polluted country in the world. So, China owns our resources and our jobs too. Campbell thieved and sold our BCR and the priceless Real Estate, that went with the BCR. Campbell thieved and sold our rivers. The dams in those rivers are stranding fish, there are thousands of fish carcasses all over the place. The next river for destruction, is the Kokish Piver. Salmon, Steel Head and Dolly Varden fish will die.The filthy diseased fish farms are killing off our wild Salmon.

    What is left of our province?? We still have the beauty of this province, so far. Our wonderful woodland animals, the Spirit Bear, the unique small wolves and of course, our beautiful big game creatures. We love our marine life of, Orca Whales, Humpback Whales and the thousands of marine species. That we will fight to keep.

    1. Laila

      Great comment Julie- and yes Quesnel is a gorgeous little town, industry driven as well with the mills but that didnt take from their efforts that show even in this dull time of year when the snow is dirty and melting and sand and rocks are everywhere. Quesnel at this time of year is indeed a pleasure for the eyes and they are proud to have visitors. PG, not so much. Even in summer I am told, the grass isnt mowed, not a lot of beautification efforts where it really counts, all things that dont have to cost a lot but give big bang for the buck at key entrances to the city. If I were in charge, I would really make that connection between PG’s modern position in the province and it’s crucial role in developing this province. There is a hell of a lot of history in this town,and I dont know why they havent had someone brilliant come in an put that into a tourism play. People always remember the way a town looks and feels. And tomorrow I will be showing some of the wonderful things you can find there!

  5. Jack Hackett

    Several months ago I was reviewing comments from tourists on the Trip Advisor site. Many of these tourists were travelling by train and an overnight stay was required in Prince George. Unfortunately very few reviews of the city were positive. The one individual wrote a comment that stuck with me, ‘a city without a soul’

  6. There are once-vibrant communities all around the province, the country, the world, that have been sucked dry by a scheme drawn up by unscrupulous and greedy people to hoover up a preponderance of the wealth, to gut social supports, to pit people against each other and to rip up whatever strips of forest, range and sea to ensure that they might have dominion over all. Many of the places I’ve visited, along with places where I’ve resided, are either fallen into the same decrepitude you describe in PG (exact same scenes of devastation and incompetence here in PA), and Marfellous Marin is now a mostly-paved, high-priced insane asylum where only millionaires can afford to life, the house we occupied on Divisadero Street last sold for over six million dollars, and the whole Gulf Islands is going the same way as Marin. We’ve lost our sense of measure, and most of the life-giving resources are reserved, used up, or threatened. Some of us are working to salvage a community out of the ruins, but I don’t often get the feeling that success is anywhere visible. It’s devastating to know the extent of the pillaging and reckless carelessness, but pieces like this, especially “from the heart”, allow a small measure of feeling that there are others who care and who are willing to do something about it.

  7. Leah

    It seems the problems of big business vs. the people vs. the government is a BC wide issue these days Laila. Some Kamloops citizens are fighting against the Ajax mine – not because they dislike mines or business…but because it’s far too close to the city…as in 1.5k from a school. The company will not give all the information requested, and the government isn’t asking the right questions. Hell, the government isn’t asking ANY questions – and city council refuses to take a stand on either side! The minister of the environment is a Kamloops citizen (Terry Lake)…and of course, there’s nothing coming out of that mouth. The mine is a done deal, whether we like it or not, regardless of future harm. It would be interesting to know where Lake is moving to now that his house in Aberdeen (the area where the mine is going in) is up for sale.

  8. harry lawson

    interesting post

    for p g to change the people of pg must change.

    the residents, chamber of commerce and all levels of goverment need to work togethewr to beautify the town,
    make it a destinatun or a pleasent stop over or respite from travelling
    it all starts with a smile, the the following a broom ,a paint brush ,and flowers

    when all that is done partner with surrounding communities and market yoursels together
    then just watch the smiles

  9. workforfun

    Again we get back to the provincial government and our elected MLA’s – who, for the most part, follow their party line. There are not enough Independent MLA’s yet to make a difference.
    However, that does not absolve the individual MLA’s from voting with their cinscience. It appears that almost without exception, all the BC Liberal party MLA’s continue to live the “LIES” that the party state. At the personal level, the BC Liberal MLA’s are equally as guilty of misrepresentation as Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark.

    Is appears quite clearly in my opinion, that greed and self interest are the motivating factors with the BC Liberal party MLA’s and their supporters. Absent is any willingness to do what is best for the people of British Columbia – as the BC Liberal government is just serving corporate interests (who are their party financial backers).

    The northern and interior communties will get little or no hople unless there are riches close by, to be raided and plucked (mines, gas, oil, fast flowing rivers etc.).

    The sooner that British Columbia can be rid of the rapers of this pprovince – the BC Liberal party, the sooner the people of this province can start to make a difference.


  10. Pat R.

    Thank you for writing this Laila.It has been a long time coming,so many people here are just trying to make ends meet,or moved for work,or whatever and don’t see anything but the mayors spending all the money on things we dont need like this dike.We cant borrow money like that in this town where is that going to be paid from?Oh yes Sheri said they could stop plowing residential roads which is stupid then the emergency vehicles cant get in and someone might die.She is only going to be one term mayor here,mark my words people are so mad already about her and Commonwealth relationship,I will tell you more in an email,but just like so many other politicians.Maybe now someone down there is paying attention we might have a chance.Please do an investigation into this city like you do on other bc big projects,so we know our money is being spent wisely.Also I would like to say you are right about taxes,I pay over 2800 a year property tax,no city water,sewer or garbage too,and god help me if my house catches fire the pumper truck takes a while to get here and might run out!

  11. Betty

    Your right there are many great things about P.G. but you have to know where to find them.Laughing about good old Mr. PG who has seen better days,maybe we need a new mascot?A really big problem here is the gangs,the renegades run the show here,they have to crack down on this to make things safe again too.But I like this post,very accurate and I hope a wake up for city hall this is how the world sees us!

  12. Laila

    So nice to see so many in agreement,and love hearing from each of you! It was good to go home though and my new post is up showing the wonderful things that many wouldnt see from just driving through.

    Yes, the people need to change too, but I fear so many have lost hope any politicians in town WILL actually change anything. And the timing of this is kind of funny too because of this news release that came out yesterday. Apparently a big American TV show is filming in PG several dates, or airing the show from there.. eek… not sure how the city is going to keep a film crew from seeing what I saw, or how they can fix so much, so fast… http://www.pugetsoundradio.com/cgi-bin/forum/Blah.pl?m-1333128911/

    Should be interesting!!!

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