During the petroleum crash of the early 1980s, a bumper sticker became popular in Alberta – this was long before anyone had dreamed of Twitter – that summed up the angst of those who had wealth, but squandered it.
“Please God,” it stated, “let there be another oil boom. I promise not to piss it all away next time.”
That is a saying that Arthur Hadland, an independent candidate, doesn’t want to see repopularized in the gas-rich riding of Peace River North, where he is trying to topple Liberal incumbent Pat Pimm.
Mr. Pimm is hoping the growth of the gas industry in the region will help get him re-elected, but there is a growing concern in the northeast about how fast the area should grow – and how long the boom will last.
Mr. Hadland, who with a modest budget and small support team almost beat Mr. Pimm in 2009, is afraid B.C. is squandering the north’s natural gas riches. And he is determined not to let that happen.
Mr. Hadland, whose campaign slogan is “A true northern voice,” is promising Peace River residents that if they get out and vote for him (instead of sitting out the election as about 60 per cent did last time around), he will bring some much needed independent thinking to Victoria.
“We burned through our fisheries and forest resources in this province,” he said. “Let’s not do the same with natural gas.”
Mr. Hadland, who owns a commercial grain and grass seed farm, wants to see a comprehensive energy development strategy for the province (because he thinks oil and gas resources are being mismanaged), wants to scrap the carbon tax (because it puts B.C. businesses at a competitive disadvantage with Alberta) and wants to cancel BC Hydro’s proposed Site C dam (because it would cost several billion dollars more than gas co-generation).
Mr. Hadland lost to Mr. Pimm by just over 1,000 votes in the past election. That’s a lot of ground to make up, but he was campaigning for his first time provincially and only spent $18,000, as opposed to Mr. Pimm’s $45,000.
This time around Mr. Hadland says he’s better organized, better funded and is determined to become that rarity in elections – an independent who knocks off a sitting member of government.
But Mr. Pimm, who has a strong record in government and deep roots in the community, will be hard to defeat.
A long-time resident of the region, he was a Fort St. John city councillor for 12 years. And as President of Alpha Controls Ltd., a construction company, he has 25 years of experience working with the oil and gas industry throughout the Peace region.
At the provincial government level he served as a member of the Treasury Board and as chair of the northern caucus.
In Fort St. John, where the population is younger, growing faster and making more money than the average in B.C., Mr. Pimm says he thinks voters will link the government’s performance to the region’s prosperity.
And he knows that people in his riding are taking note of the services the government has been providing.
“We do contribute a lot to provincial revenues … but we get a fair amount back as well,” he said, noting $1-billion has been spent on road infrastructure in the region under the Liberals.
Mr. Pimm is quick to remind voters that under the last NDP government, in the 1990’s, unemployment was higher and wages lower. He hopes the young, working families in Peace River North will recognize his government’s role in that, and get out to vote.
“This is going to be one of the most important elections in [B.C.] history,” he said.
Nick Parsons, a director of the Peace Valley Environment Association, says not everyone is embracing industrial growth, however. He said Site C and the uncontrolled development of gas could weigh heavily against the incumbent.
“I have a feeling the Liberals have dug themselves too big a hole to get out of,” he said. “People feel we need a new sense of direction in British Columbia.”
The NDP candidate, Judy Fox-McGuire, has a degree in criminology and worked in community corrections and labour relations. She is expected to run third, with the real battle being the race between Mr. Pimm and Mr. Hadland.
Riding Snapshot: Peace River North
Arthur Hadland Independent
Judy Fox-McGuire B.C. NDP
Pat Pimm B.C. Liberal
2009 election: Liberal Pat Pimm won the riding with 43.15 per cent of the vote; Independent candidate Arthur Hadland came in second with 31.33 per cent; NDP candidate Jackie Allen was third with 13.98 per cent.
Seniors, 65 and older, in private households: 6 per cent (B.C. average 14 per cent)
Average household income, before tax: $82,117 (B.C. average $67,675)
Source: Elections B.C. and B.C. Stats