ArmchairMayor.ca is pleased to welcome former Kamloops City councillor Nancy Bepple as a regular columnist. She will offer her opinions on Wednesdays each week.
I ONCE SPENT 10 days on a kayak trip on Haida Gwaii with writer and CBC commentator, Chantal Hébert. The trip was completely off grid, so our main form of recreation at the end of each day was sitting around a fire, and making conversation.
We debated the merits of small places like Kamloops versus large cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Hébert was unconvinced with my arguments that smaller places like Kamloops drive the country culturally and economically. From her perspective, large places were what mattered.
There is no doubt that Hébert could have bettered me in a debate on any topic, not just this one.
I’ve never heard either MLA Peter Milobar or MLA Todd Stone back away from a fight. Yet they came up short, as did previous Kamloops MLAs to convince first their own BC Liberal colleagues, and now the BC NDP government to deliver a new building for South Kamloops Secondary School.
I’ve got only respect for our local school board, which has had the thankless task for years for keeping their budget balanced. By my count, School District #73 has closed at least 9 schools in just over a decade, and another 3 since 2003. Meanwhile, BC Teachers’ Federation site lists only 1 closed school in Vancouver, back in 2003.
While Kamloops students study in crumbling, decades old buildings, Lower Mainland school districts have benefited from close to $0.5 billion in funding for new schools first under the BC Liberals, and now under the BC NDP.
Kamloops loses out in post-secondary funding as well. Kudos go to the Thompson Rivers University Student Union, who have repeatedly lobbied the B.C. government. Each year from the province, TRU receives $1,500 less per student than the provincial average. That $1,500 is made up by higher tuition fees, fewer student services, and generally less opportunities for our students.
There is no province-wide funding formula for post-secondary institutions. Despite TRU being at 105-per cent capacity for students, one of the highest Full Time Equivalent rates in the province, TRU ranks 16th out of 25 for targeted funding from the provincial government. The funding hasn’t come, either under the BC Liberals or the BC NDP.
Kamloops loses out on health care, too. Last year, expansions of $417 million for Royal Inland Hospital were announced. Welcome news and thanks to then Health Minister Terry Lake. Also thanks to our local TNRD taxpayers, who will pay $172 million of the cost collected through our local property tax bills.
Fast forward to last month in Richmond, where a new hospital for $283 million to $400 million was announced by the province. No mention was made that Richmond taxpayers would have to foot some of the bill as well.
And it’s not enough to say, as Hébert did, that the hinterlands don’t count.
Look at the top 15 companies in BC. Almost all of them do business in our region, with Finning, Teck, West Fraser, and BCLC having major operations in and around Kamloops. In 2016/17, BCLC alone sent $1.339 billion to the B.C. provincial government. Highland Valley Copper generated $733 million in revenue.
Look at the graduates of Thompson Rivers University. Some have gone on to do graduate work, as far afield as Oxford. Others are working for top companies around the world, while some remain and build top tech startups and run local businesses.
Look at one of our own, Lori Marchand, who leaves this week for Ottawa to take on the role of managing director for Indigenous theatre at the National Arts Centre. She will be going to the centre of power, which is what Chantal Hébert says matters. But before Lori left, she helped stage a host of productions, the latest being Glory, now being staged in Calgary. The arts community in Kamloops have influenced Canada repeatedly, and Marchand is just the latest example.
Kamloops again and again punches above its weight. However, it also often seems that people in Kamloops spend too much energy fighting each other, when what we should really should do is band together.
Otherwise, whether education, healthcare or anything else, we’ll keep being on the losing end of the debates, and the short end of the stick. We need to speak as one voice to make sure Kamloops gets the services and funding we deserve.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects..