By Al Lehmann
A serious question for those candidates wishing to serve the community is, “What is your vision for the next 20 or 30 years for Terrace and its surroundings?”
It’s a question that was put to me by two college-age women who rang the doorbell one evening not long ago. The two were doing a survey for the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and wanted to know what I thought about Terrace’s future, and where I thought our community should direct its energies.
It might be imagined that, as per our provincial government’s enthusiastic embrasure of the possibilities for liquefied natural gas, many would envision massive industrial intervention and development, expanded housing for workers migrating here from elsewhere in Canada and around the world, and the concomitant opportunities for local businesses and growing social services.
Certainly improved opportunities (economic and otherwise) sound good to most of us. Naturally the next question must be, “At what cost?” In an economic model that consistently reminds us that there is no free lunch, we would be well advised to address what the costs to such developments might be, and who will pay them, and who will get the benefits, and in what proportions.
(One is reminded of Leonard Cohen’s stark lyrics to Democracy, a song on his 1995 album The Future: “…the homicidal bitchin’ that goes down in every kitchen, to determine who will serve and who will eat.”)
This is especially important when we consider that fossil fuel production and use have long relied upon free dumping of waste into the atmosphere for centuries, a practice that must end if we are going to survive on this planet.
Further costs include the industrial despoliation of wilderness, the potential wreckage of watersheds and destruction of (until now) almost infinitely renewable populations of food fish, and so on.
All those costs accumulate, and will be collected sooner or later, in one way or another.
However, there are other visions of a future for the region that should be at least part of the general equation.
The survey included questions about family priorities within the larger community, voice (are you heard?…hmm…), tipping points in industrial development, local food, outstanding questions about land and First Nations negotiations, and the future.
I tried to emphasize the following. We need to complete treaties that equitably address all First Nations land claims. Any industrial development projected on such areas can progress only by way of legal treaties.
We need more equitable arrangements of power and benefits from economic activity in the region. Getting hardballed by corporations largely owned by global interests (including foreign governments), or by governments owned by corporate lobbyists is not in our best interests.
We need to continue to increase the progress we have been making on local food production and distribution, including stocking the food bank(s). We need to hasten our energy independence from fossil fuels, a process that will be a difficult transition.
We need to address our growing greying demography (increasing numbers of aging, retired people) by improving public health, public transportation infrastructure, home care, etc.
We need to maintain and improve our public education infrastructure (physical plant and human participants’ skills, qualifications and motivations).
Naturally, these priorities all have cost implications, as well. Further, none of these goals will be met in a society without energy, or lumber, or metal. There will have to be some carefully thought out compromises.
However, if Skeena development priorities remain exclusively aligned with corporate Canada’s general ethos of “cut it, catch it, or dig it out of the ground and sell it so consumers can buy more plastic junk from China,” some of us may profit in the short run, but most will find ourselves generally impoverished.
What would you like to see in Skeena’s future? Google Skeena 2050, find the questions, and try to answer them for yourselves. We’re all in this together.
Retired English teacher Al Lehmann lives in Terrace, B.C.