This year’s State of the Island Economic Summit included participation from the first premier from Vancouver Island in 70 years.
Premier John Horgan addressed delegates via video link during Wednesday’s dinner address at the summit at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.
Horgan talked about ferries, First Nations economic development and more, delivering a prepared speech and then taking questions from the floor.
Regarding ferries, he said rising fares can be blamed for more than $2 billion in lost economic potential over the last 10 years and said that’s “economic activity that could have helped your businesses grow and other businesses start up.”
He promised that a freeze on ferry fares, fare reductions on minor routes and full seniors’ weekday discounts are all coming in the spring.
“And while we do that we’re going to oversee and have a comprehensive review of the ferry system so that it will be as efficient and effective as it possibly can be in the interest of our Island economy, in the interest of the people who live here and most importantly, because it is an integrated part of our transportation system in British Columbia,” he said. “We are on an Island. We depend on ferries and our economy depends on a successful ferry system.”
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The premier was asked about economic development potential for the Island’s First Nations. He said that in his mandate letters to every minister in his government, he asked that they embrace the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, consider the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and recognize the certainty of aboriginal rights and title to the land.
“So that when we’re working on economic development, when it comes to resource development, we put in place partnerships at the front end rather than conflict as projects go through various processes,” Horgan said. “I believe First Nations prosperity means prosperity for everybody and I think sophisticated investors looking at opportunities in British Columbia see willing partners in a new provincial government, they see willing partners around the tables in Nanaimo tonight and they certainly see willing partners in First Nations right across the Island.”
Another question that came up was amalgamation of Victoria municipalities, and Horgan said after so many years in politics on the south Island, he understands the challenges. He said he’ll be an ally as far as amalgamation of services, but said local voices need to remain strong in regional growth strategies.
“When it comes to land-use decisions in all of these communities, people are fiercely passionate about making local decisions that are in the interest of local communities,” he said.
Look for more stories from the State of the Island Economic Summit over the next few days at www.nanaimobulletin.com.