For too long, Dan Brooks says rural B.C. residents have been neglected by decision-makers in Victoria.
A candidate for the leadership of the B.C. Conservative Party, he would like to reverse a trend whereby a “slow attrition of rural resource economy” has been occurring over a long period of time.
“We’ve lost 58,000 people in 15 years out of rural British Columbia. That’s a big deal,” Brooks said in a Wednesday interview during a visit to the Comox Valley. “Our population would be in decline if it wasn’t for immigration, because net migration is out of this province.”
The 38-year-old Brooks is married with seven daughters. He owns and operates the Crystal Lake Resort near his hometown of Vanderhoof in North Central B.C.
He said keeping people in B.C. is a “fundamental question of economics,” noting tax revenue that comes with well-paid jobs.
“What we have right now is a tax base that is so high, and jobs aren’t arriving. It’s driving our economy elsewhere. It’s just going to be deficit spending after deficit spending.
“We’re seeing that happen now with the Liberals. They can’t balance a budget for the life of them. They’re throwing everything they have at LNG (liquified natural gas).”
Which is fine in the long-term, but Brooks said Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals are not addressing the fundamental problem of rural population decline.
“She thinks LNG is the magic answer. It’s not going to fix rural B.C.,” said Brooks, who supports resource development but criticizes the “flawed” approval process.
He suggests population decline can be neutralized by proper land-use planning, improved quality of life and tourism. He feels the latter has “enormous potential” on the North Island. Tourism traffic, for example, would alleviate hikes in ferry costs.
Brooks was impressed with the Vancouver Island Visitor Centre in Cumberland. He feels every rural community in the province needs a similar facility.
“We have to start addressing the tourism foundation this province has. We’ve got to get away from Destination B.C. What’s happened with tourism since (former premier) Gordon Campbell took it into government is an absolute nightmare.”
Brooks has relocated temporarily to Kamloops in hopes of winning the leadership race.
“It’s a very symbolic move. I’m trying to tell the people of B.C. that the Conservatives are serious about rural B.C., about the Interior.”
Last year, he was elected to the party board as a director-at-large. This year, he ran in the provincial election as the Conservative candidate for Nechako Lakes. The party failed to win a single seat.
“Now we have a starting point,” said Brooks, noting a five-fold increase in party membership since 2010. “British Columbians need Conservatives.
“Without us, that election would not have been about the financial management of this province. Just by being there, we took the entire political spectrum to the right, towards conservatism, towards free-market enterprise. That is a valuable thing for the democratic system of British Columbia.”
Vancouver businessman Rick Peterson is the only other declared candidate for the B.C. Conservative leadership, which will be decided April 11.
John Cummins stepped down as party leader in July.