Local MP Wayne Stetski spent Dec. 23 in the Elk Valley, meeting with constituents in Elkford, Sparwood and Fernie. He saved some time to talk with The Free Press about the new challenges he faces, what he hopes to see changed in Ottawa and what he changes he would like to see in the local areas.
Stetski has been busy since he was elected in October. As the new NDP MP for the Kootenay-Columbia, which is one of the top 10 largest ridings, in Canada, he is facing some new challenges.
“It’s kind of like starting businesses in three different communities at the same time because you end up having to get an office and hire staff in my case, in Ottawa, Cranbrook and Nelson,” said Stetski “They hasn’t been a constituency office in Nelson before but it’s very important to have an office in the West Kootenay portion of the riding because it’s a new riding.”
The Kootenay-Columbia riding takes roughly seven hours to drive across, and encompasses cities such as Revelstoke, Golden, Nelson, and Cranbrook, along with the Elk Valley.
“The best way to describe it is that you’re in Ottawa for at least six months of the year because parliament sits for six months, and you’re in the riding for the other six months but not necessarily home because you are expected to be in all of the communities in every given year for sure,” Stetski said.
In regards to the Elk Valley, which is experiencing uneasy economic times, Stetski hopes to find jobs in other sectors and reinforce the importance of small businesses in the area.
“Ideally, I think in many communities we need to be looking at alternative energy as a source of both economic growth and basic green jobs. I have always had an interest in solar, geothermal, bio energy – you know, burning garbage and turning it into energy – [and] wind. We have an opportunity in Kootenay-Columbia to start moving towards that and getting away from the oil and gas focus on our economy in general,” he said. “The good news about Elk Valley coal is that it is used for steel making and we all need steel so it’s not thermal coal, which then gets into the climate change issue, and carbon dioxide and all of that. I certainly hope that the market turns around so they can start to have a little rosier approach there.”
One of the details in Stetski’s platform was to help small businesses, especially in times of economic hardship.
“A lot of the jobs come from small business. And I said during the campaign one of the things I wanted to do was to create a series of forums or meetings that involve me as the federal representative, but also involving provincial government and municipal governments,” he said. “Meeting together with small businesses to actually have a conversation about what governments at all levels can do to help small business be more successful.”
Stetski was appointed as National Parks critic in the NDP’s shadow cabinet, allowing him to pull on his life experience of being involved with National Parks to help him in the position.
“I’ve spent virtually all of my life working with national parks and provincial parks including Manitoba provincial parks, BC provincial parks, so it’s been a life long interest of mine,” he said, adding that National Parks critic was his first choice, in front of Environment critic and First Nations critic.
“Under the conservative government, national parks were really cut back. They laid off a lot of staff, there were reports in the last couple of years to risks to the ecological integrity of national parks and the infrastructure in national parks is in really bad shape,” he said. “The Liberals have promised to restore $25 million of the $32 million cut that the conservatives brought in and also promised to invest $25 million a year into eco system management, and they also included wildlife areas in that funding parcel as well.”
Stetski said it is his job to ensure that the Liberals keep their promises in regards to National Parks areas, including free access to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.
“One of the things we need to do is make sure that they deliver, on parks but also on many other promises, that’s really what our job is. The job description actually came from our new prime minister who said the job of the opposition parties is to make government better. And that’s what we certainly intend to do,” Stetski said.
Jumbo Wild is an area that has attracted a lot of attention on a local level. The area east of Inveremere has caught the eye of a team of investors, who would like to transform the natural land into a world-class ski resort. Although the debate doesn’t fall under Stetski’s National Parks critic jurisdiction, he does have strong opinions on the polarizing debate.
“One thing that I think was really wrong about the whole Jumbo process was that it never should have gone to the provincial government for a decision. The decision should have been kept locally, through the Regional District of East Kootenay because that means that the local people are actually making the decision for themselves,” he said. “I really think that as often as possible, decisions near our homes and in our neighbourhoods should be made locally and should not be given away to somebody else to make the decision.”
Stetski is also skeptical of another ski resort in the area, as there is already multiple recreational areas in the riding.
“I think there is enough really, really good skiing out there already, and a lot of ski hills particularly with climate change are suffering economically. I don’t think we need it from a competition perspective either. I think in the end it could seriously impact existing ski hills. I want to see our existing ski hills prosper.”
In addition to these two factors, Stetski also pointed out how important the area is to wildlife and to the Ktunaxa nation, who has been in the area for generations.
“It’s the way it came about, and it’s the fact the local people weren’t consulted, is the fact that we don’t need another ski hill, it’s the fact that it’s of importance to the Ktunaxa and the fact of the impact of grizzly bears and the environment, so when you add up all of those factors, that’s why I don’t think it should proceed.”
Stetski said Ottawa and Parliament Hill is an impressive sight to behold.
“When you first walk into parliament, you do kind of take a deep breath and think about history, where we come from. The House of Commons is where much of Canada and who we are today was created so it is a real honour to be there on behalf of the people of the Kootenay Columbia,” he said. “The role of the staff in Ottawa is to deliver on behalf of the constituents here in the riding because there we have direct access to ministers, to many organizations that have their national headquarters in Ottawa. It’s a really good place to build networks, which then help your constituents because that’s really what it is about in the end.”