NDP MLA Jennifer Rice says transportation minister should have attended Highway of Tears meetings

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November 25, 2015| CBC Radio Daybreak North

Even though she wasn’t invited, Jennifer Rice attended a symposium on the Highway of Tears in Smithers this week. She says it’s important to hear from the people affected by missing and murdered women along the highway, but has questions about the government’s commitment to finding solutions.


Carolina de Ryk: Even though she wasn’t invited Jennifer Rice spent the day at a symposium on the Highway of Tears in Smithers yesterday. She is NDP’s MLA for the North Coast and party spokesperson for Northern and Rural Health. Let’s start with the fact that while this meeting was public you weren’t actually invited. Any sense why that might have been?

Rice: I think the obvious is that I’ve been a pretty vocal advocate for getting moving on the Highway of Tears and the murdered and missing women’s inquiry recommendations. I’ve particularly pushed the Transportation minister on getting public transportation, improved public transportation in the north. I certainly don’t think he would want to hear me nagging him again on the issue. I wouldn’t invite me either I guess.

de Ryk: So, public transportation being one of the important parts of yesterday’s symposium. What did spokespeople there say about the potential of this being implemented here in the north?

Rice: I would have to say firstly the community leaders from up and down Highway 16 and around the north and the outlying communities that are within a close radius of Highway 16, they all had valuable contributions to make. I commend them for spending their day and for traveling a tricky highway right now to participate and to offer their input. So, they did a phenomenal job but at the end of the day we still don’t have any commitment. We don’t have the shuttle bus, the number one recommendation from the Highway of Tears symposium as well as one of Wally Oppal’s recommendations from three years ago. We still don’t have that. Still no bus, no timelines and no money.

de Ryk: But yesterday was more about fact finding and looking for solutions, correct?

Rice: Well, I would say the morning was essentially reiterating the concerns that community leaders have already raised for well over a decade around getting around in the north, with the second half in the afternoon with small group work with these community leaders, these participants in talking about what’s working and what’s not working and asking input for their solutions.

de Ryk: So, what did members of the Liberal government say they would do with some of the recommendations put forward at the symposium yesterday?

Rice: We were told that they would be compiled and put into a report. We were reassured that there would be an action plan and that just to quote the Transportation Assistant Deputy Minister, she said, “It would not be over many months or years.” So, I guess that was to reassure us that even though it’s taken them a decade to actually get to this meeting that it wouldn’t take another decade for the next step, but that does little to reassure me. It does little to reassure those people that were attending yesterday that had also been at the Highway of Tears symposiums. It does nothing to reassure the families of the murdered and missing. I sat at a table with Ramona Wilson’s family. The proof is in the pudding. I’ll have confidence when I actually see a concrete solution, a concrete action plan, which would take resources and a commitment from the government. That we’ve yet to see.

de Ryk: Certainly by holding this symposium the government is willing to show their commitment to improving safety though. Why else would they hold it?

Rice: I just want to remind your listeners that we have heard for the last two years that this was not a priority. The minister misled people and said that community leaders didn’t think public transportation was a priority. He had documents to say otherwise from the voices of people in the north. He hid them. He had a staff member delete some of those, which went against the FOI Act. Then the privacy and information officer essentially forced him to release these documents that actually showed contrary to what the spin was of the government for the last two years. So, we have now documents and the government has had documents in their own hands that they’ve been hiding, demonstrating that people want this and now that it’s out there in the public interestingly enough in a short timeframe, a short turn around, now we’re having a symposium, now we want to talk about solutions and now we’re reassured orally that there will be an action plan.

So, the government is embarrassed. They got caught. They got in trouble and now they’re trying to save face. There’s some disingenuity in that and it’s not necessarily authentic in my opinion but really I don’t care. In the end I just want to see this come to fruition. I really want to see rural communities in the north networked, able to participate fully in society and that means getting to appointments, getting to family events, participating in cultural and recreational activities, getting to medical appointments, and that’s what I want to see.

de Ryk: The Minister of Transportation Todd Stone wasn’t actually at yesterday’s meetings. What’s the key thing you would like him to know that you took away from it?

Rice: I guess the key thing I would want him to know is that we often known governments hold what they call consultation meetings and it’s really about checking off a box saying, “Well, we consulted communities.” I want him to know that the people that I sat with and the people in that room are not going to give up and that we’re not going to let this go away. We’re not going to wait another ten years to see action.

de Ryk: Jennifer Rice, good of you to join us this morning. We will speak with Todd Stone in the next half hour and perhaps we’ll get some more answers from him.

Rice: Yeah, that would be fantastic