Column: Constituents' concerns
On Sunday I completed my third annual “Ride the Riding” event, cycling 411 kilometres from Naramata to Nakusp. The ride provides an opportunity to meet and talk with constituents on the trail or at scheduled stops in cafes and restaurants in communities throughout the riding, celebrates the beautiful cycling trails we have in this region, and gives me a chance to get some exercise before I have to return to Ottawa and sit all winter.
I think this year’s ride was a success on all those counts. I was fortunate that the heavy smoke that has plagued us throughout much of the summer cleared significantly through the week, so I enjoyed clear skies and moderate temperatures along the way. A couple of flat tires on the first day (a nail from the highway shoulder north of Vaseux Lake reinforced how nice it would be to have a hiking/biking trail all the way from Naramata to Osoyoos!). and a major mechanical problem in the wilds of the West Kettle Valley made life interesting. Luckily, I was cycling with bicycle professionals, one of whom provided me with a loaner bike for the afternoon and another who took mine and fixed it while I continued to Midway.
So what were the issues I heard about? On the first day a large contingent of people with serious concerns about the national park proposal for the south Okanagan met me in Oliver. We had a spirited discussion for about 40 minutes, and while I remain in favour of this proposal I agreed to continue to bring their questions and concerns to Parks Canada and the Minister of Environment in Ottawa. Once preliminary boundaries and policy decisions are made about this park proposal later this fall, there will be a period of public comment through the winter and spring where detailed concerns can be aired and hopefully many of them will be resolved.
Some constituents came with specific requests regarding their businesses and innovative products they were developing. I’ll take their proposals to government agencies to see what avenues for funding or procurement might be available. One of the commonest concerns in small rural communities was bus transportation. After Greyhound’s announcement that they will discontinue service this fall, many people fear they will have no way to get to larger centres for doctor’s appointments or family visits if an alternative service is not found.
Similar concerns are felt by the many small business owners who need reliable courier options to send and receive products—something that the Greyhound bus did very well. In Slocan I was delighted to tour the new housing project developed by the Slocan Valley Seniors Housing Society. I’ve followed this initiative since it was in the early planning stages and have always been impressed by the range of talents and skills in that group. They found a suitable building site, designed the units, and raised the funds—and now 12 units of very affordable housing will be occupied this fall.
And of course there was a lot of talk about the Trans Mountain Pipeline. I found out about the Federal Appeal Court decision quashing the project’s approval when I sat down with a table-full of interested residents of Greenwood. As I write this, I’m on my way to Ottawa for an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources to discuss the issue. I and the Conservative members will be asking for the committee to study the approval process, the purchase of the pipeline and the future of the project, and I’ll write more about that in my next column.