North Island NDP MLA Michele Babchuk stopped in at the North Island Gazette officefor a wide-ranging interview on all things North Island.
Babchuk was elected to office in October of last year, taking over the North Island riding from the NDP’s Claire Trevena, who announced she wouldn’t be running again after having won in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017.
When asked what it’s been like taking over from Trevena, Babchuk said it’s “big shoes to fill. She was the minister in her last term, she did a great job for the North Island, and I just hope that I can do the same.”
Babchuk has been enjoying her time in office, but also noted she had to quit her other jobs as a Campbell River councillor, school board trustee, and chair of the Strathcona Regional District.
“Governance is not new to me, but the role is [MLA], and in my job with the province I’ve been appointed as the deputy whip, so I have some internal responsibilities there with the caucus, which is fantastic, and while the legislature has been operating at a different pace due to COVID, I’m really looking forward to everybody being in the legislature in October.”
While she hasn’t been able to travel much since being voted into office due to COVID-19 restrictions, she was finally able to stop by the Hardy Bay Seniors Centre last week for a meet and greet.
Babchuk said the seniors have an “absolutely wonderful group, and I’ve had some communication with them about their project with BC Housing, which unfortunately didn’t happen this time, but I think it’s important we keep taking a look at it and keep putting in applications — hopefully the next one will be successful.”
As for the housing crisis currently going on all over B.C., Babchuk confirmed it is “a huge priority for the provincial government,” adding that whether it’s supportive housing, complex-care housing, affordable housing, or even incentives through BC Housing for developers to build affordable housing, “it is an issue and it is a priority of the government to try and tackle it as best we can.”
She added she’s met with quite a few North Island groups here now, and she’s been hearing a lot of the same issues from them, particularly when it comes to the sore subject of power outages.
“I’ve heard from the District of Port Hardy there has been 18 power outages this year, and there was 28 in Coal Harbour, so I think that’s something that really needs to be addressed, especially if we are trying to attract any sort of investment for this area, whether it be industrial, commercial, or even residential.”
When asked about the future of the dormant Neucel Specialty Cellulose pulp mill in Port Alice, Babchuk said she thinks it’s an absolute shame what has happened to it, “and I’m hoping to get into Port Alice sometime soon to have those conversations with them.”
She added it’s important that Port Alice has services in place so they can get future investments needed to replace the mill.
As for the controversial subject of fish farms, Babchuk says her stance on the issue is different from North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney, who has openly campaigned against them.
She feels “The jury is still out for me — I know they are a huge economic driver, I know that the province is trying very hard to work with the industry and the Indigenous communities to make sure that if they don’t want them there to be able to transition them out and make it good for both parties.”
Babchuk wasn’t happy with the Discovery Islands decision to remove fish farms from the area, pointing out the Broughton Archipelago agreement was handled much better.
“There was understanding on why that decison was made, which was very different than what happened in Campbell River with the Discovery Islands — it felt very much like a unilateral decision, and it didn’t have the consultation that it needed to have.”
If North Island constituents want to contact Babchuk they can reach her at the Port Hardy constituency office (250-949-9473) or her constituency office in Campbell River (250-287-5100).
“I’m up here now, I’ll be back and forth, and I’m here to stay for four years,” added Babchuk.