PROVINCIAL finance minister Mike de Jong providing background to the budget he introduced in the legislature Feb. 21.

PROVINCIAL finance minister Mike de Jong providing background to the budget he introduced in the legislature Feb. 21.

Provincial budget speech passes with no word on a new Mills Memorial

Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc, who heard speech firsthand, thought there might be news

  • Feb. 23, 2017 2:00 p.m.

FOR awhile, Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc thought she was going to hear the kind of news much awaited in the region – progress toward a replacement for the aging Mills Memorial Hospital.

After all, she and the city’s top administrator, Heather Avison, were the beneficiaries of a rare honour – seats on the floor of the provincial legislature in Victoria Feb. 21 to hear firsthand the government’s spending plans for the next year.

It could very well have been the occasion, in announcing spending details for the budget year beginning April 1, to learn what the province has in mind for a new Mills.

“We were hoping for that,” said Leclerc by telephone after the budget speech session had ended.

But the speech by finance minister Mike de Jong ended with no mention of plans for a new Mills, although he did list four projects either underway already or previously announced – new hospitals in Courtenay/Comox and Campbell River on Vancouver Island and substantial additions to existing hospitals in Kamloops and Penticton.

Still, Leclerc said she’s now focused on a renewed effort to convince the provincial government that a new Mills is needed.

And that’s by lining up face-to-face meetings with influential cabinet ministers, a list that includes health minister Terry Lake, finance minister Mike de Jong, Donna Barnett who is the minister of state for rural economic development, aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister John Rustad, jobs minister Shirley Bond and Peter Fassbender, who has responsibility for municipalities in cabinet.

Leclerc said she began working on that list the end of January while attending an economic development conference in Prince George.

It was there she button-holed Rustad about local and other issues and it was he who then invited Leclerc to witness the throne speech.

That prospect worked out well because it was one day before the province’s mayors were due to meet in Victoria for an annual gathering and Leclerc and Avison were both attending.

“We were hoping for this week,” said Leclerc last week. “But now it looks like we’re into March.”

And aside from Terrace municipal representatives lobbying provincial cabinet ministers, Leclerc wants to make sure directors on the North West Regional Hospital District, the regional authority that would help finance a new Mills through property taxes, are also present.

“Our First Nations chief councillors are also important and I’d want them included,” said Leclerc of Kitsumkalum chief councillor Don Roberts and Joe Bevan, the Kitselas chief councillor.

As for being on the floor of the legislature to hear the budget speech, Leclerc said she and Avison had no idea that was going to happen until they picked up their tickets the morning of the speech.

“They said ‘floor’ and we wondered what that meant,” she said.

“I’ve never experienced an opportunity like that,” Leclerc added.

Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin, when he noticed Leclerc and Avison sitting very close to him, also wondered if the budget speech was going to contain a reference to a new Mills.

“But no, not a thing,” said Austin.