Former Skeena MLA passes away

Helmut Giesbrecht represented the riding from 1991 to 2001

Helmut Giesbrecht, left, being sworn in as transportation minister in Feb. 2001. With him is deputy premier Joy MacPhail and Lieutenant-Governor Garde Gardom. (Government of BC photo)

Helmut Giesbrecht, left, being sworn in as transportation minister in Feb. 2001. With him is deputy premier Joy MacPhail and Lieutenant-Governor Garde Gardom. (Government of BC photo)

Helmut Giesbrecht, who represented the provincial Skeena riding for the New Democratic Party from 1991 to 2001, has passed away.

Giesbrecht had been in increasingly ill health the past several years. He passed away Oct. 9 at the age of 77.

Prior to his time in provincial politics, Giesbrecht was a Terrace municipal councillor from 1976 to 1981 and was mayor from 1981 to 1985.

In between local and provincial elected office, Giesbrecht, a teacher for a quarter century, led local teachers out on a strike in January 1989 when he was president of the then-Terrace and District Teachers’ Association.

Giesbrecht’s tenure as the Member of the Legislative (MLA) for Skeena featured more than one challenge, and not all of them were political.

Faced with an attempt by his own government to transfer the orthopedic surgical position in Kitimat to Terrace, Giesbrecht vowed to do what was necessary to oppose the plan.

“If they do that, I’m going to be on the other side and we’ll bring out the troops,” Giesbrecht told The Northern Sentinel in Kitimat.

The plan was abandoned.

In late 1997 and early 1998, there were two attempts to have him recalled, a procedure permitted under provincial legislation such that if at least 40 per cent of the registered voters of a riding agree, the MLA is removed and a by-election is held.

“He has demonstrated by his decisions and actions that he does not work for the people – he works for the government. This has left the people of Skeena riding without a voice in Victoria,” read one of the petitions advocating for his removal.

One of the recall campaigns was eventually withdrawn but the other, dubbed “Crash Helmut,” a play on Giesbrecht’s first name, enjoyed the support of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. It failed.

His greatest challenge came in spring 2000 when he was diagnosed with lymphoma, the kind of cancer that causes growths on the lymph nodes in his lower abdomen.

“I have every intention of running again. But first I have this mountain to climb,” he said of the May 2001 provincial election.

His treatment was successful and Giesbrecht did run again, only to be defeated by BC Liberal Roger Harris, part of an overwhelming provincial shift from the NDP to the BC Liberals.

Giesbrecht held two cabinet posts during his provincial political tenure — one as public service minister and the other as transportation minister.

In retirement, Giesbrecht could be seen mornings at the downtown Tim Hortons, discussing the issues of the day with a variety of folks.

He kept his in hand in local affairs, commenting and advocating when the need arose.

Faced with increasing difficulty walking because of a degenerative disease, Giesbrecht urged for better control over parking spots for people of limited mobility.

“Any disabled person would gladly give up their [parking] permit if they didn’t need them,” Giesbrecht told Terrace city council in 2014. “They would gladly walk across the parking lot with a spring in their step if they could just walk like a normal person.”

In 2016, when BC Liberal health minister Terry Lake turned down the prospect of a new Mills Memorial Hospital, Giesbrecht had this to say, “If you don’t see the need to castigate the minister’s position, take a stroll through Mills Memorial Hospital and then through Kitimat General Hospital and see the difference, then demand he come up here and do the same.”

Flags were lowered to half-mast at Terrace city hall Oct. 12 in honour of Giesbrecht.