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Kurt Peats: BC Cons' Great Northern Hope

One of the party's top candidates on his drive to represent Peace River South's 'hardworking' voters. A Tyee interview.

By James Thomson 17 Jan 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Jimmy Thomson completed a practicum at The Tyee in December. Follow him on Twitter.

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Peats: In B.C., 'We have a spending problem.' Photo credit: Jill Earl, Northeast News.

When The Tyee first spoke with Kurt Peats, he was on the road. It's a dangerous road he knows well, having spent five years cruising it as part of the provincial highway patrol. Peats was taking his mother to Edmonton, six icy hours away, for surgery.

Peats doesn't think residents of this region, known electorally as Peace River South, should have to go through such a hazardous drive -- awash in coal, natural gas, and other mineral wealth, the area contributes healthily to the province's economy. If elected as a B.C. Conservative MLA this May, he says he plans to twin Highway 43 from the Alberta border to Dawson Creek.

Peats advocates for more of the wealth generated in the region to stay there in the form of new roads, hospitals, and airport infrastructure.

"We don't mind contributing, we don't," he explains. "But we need a little help here."

Business is so brisk that workers come from across Canada and elsewhere to have a hand in the many natural resource projects in progress there. Visiting workers and equipment are brought in heavy vehicles, contributing to the degradation and crowding of the roads.

Workers "work, use a ton of services, and then they leave," according to Peats, and don't spend the money they earn in town. "Sometimes they don't buy as much as a cup of coffee," he says.

Peats was put forth as the BC Conservative candidate for Peace River South in early December, among the first of the party's lineup to be announced.

"Many of our candidates, and especially those from the northern parts of the province, have an excellent chance of winning a seat in the legislature," said party leader John Cummins. "Kurt is an example of the fine calibre of candidates that the BC Conservatives are nominating across the province."

The party considers Peats to be part of their great hope for seats in the north. But for the past 11 years, the riding has been a BC Liberal stronghold. The current MLA Blair Lekstrom won the 2009 election by a 36 per cent margin, winning more than double the votes of his NDP opponent. No Conservative candidate ran that year.

However, Lekstrom has decided not to run in the coming provincial election, opening up the field for the first time since his original landslide win in 2001.

Peats describes Lekstrom as a "fantastic fellow," and admits that "he would have been a challenge." The new Liberal candidate, Mike Bernier, is the mayor of Dawson Creek, and like Peats has never before run in a provincial election. No other candidates have been announced yet.

After retiring from the RCMP, Peats says his decision to run is motivated by ensuring the next generation reaps "all the benefits that we've received." He describes the Peace River South residents he seeks to represent as independent, hardworking, conservative people who are "only a generation or two removed from the pioneers."

He also feels it's important for the party to draw a firm distinction between the provincial and the federal Conservatives.

"We are not part of that group at all," he says. "We are our own people."

The Tyee called up Peats to hear more about his thoughts on shining a light on infrastructure in the north, imported labour, the carbon tax, and more.

On how infrastructure upgrades in Peace River South are just like "painting an old barn":

"Instead of kind of throwing a number at a dartboard, and saying one per cent, two per cent, a million per cent, [of royalties should be returned to the riding] whatever, what really needs to happen is we need to sit down, collectively as a group, and say 'Where's the infrastructure at? What's lacking? What's it going to cost?'

"There's no room inside the airport [in Fort St. John]. It's 40 below, people are outside, luggage on the runway, waiting for this plane to arrive. Instead of the province taking all of the revenues and giving us back about one per cent, can not we have some basic services?

"We've got a very, very busy highway. It's a two-lane road but it is full of heavy, heavy commercial vehicles. I worked highway patrol up here for the last five years, and I've been to my fair share of collisions and fatals because that road's at capacity.

"We need to have a hospital here in Dawson Creek. [Dawson Creek & District Hospital] has been renovated and renovated and added to and still... it's like painting an old barn."

On imported labour and the shadow population:

"When all these workers come in, they really use a lot of services, and yet they pay no taxes because most of the workers are from out of province. We have a significant shadow population issue. It's similar to Fort McMurray.

"Rule number one: All jobs should be B.C. first, not even a question. Once that federal program [of allowing Chinese workers at the Tumbler Ridge mine] came to light regarding the process, surprise, surprise, it's being reviewed.

"If Chinese workers have technical skills, then it's incumbent upon the mine... to make sure that those skills are passed on to Canadians within a time frame of six months or a year.

"All jobs need to be B.C. first, Canada second."

On lenient sentences and alternative justice:

"Lately, we've been seeing some really insane types of rulings coming out, where someone's involved in a hit-and-run, and by golly, the judge got really hard on him and gave him a $1,000 fine and suspended his license for a year. When you wipe out a family, that's just simply unacceptable.

"Because we have such a huge backlog, now we're seeing criminals walk free simply because the timer stopped. Because he didn't get to court in a 'reasonable amount of time,' the charges and everything are tossed.

"I'm a firm, firm supporter of alternative justice. When I worked in Tumbler Ridge we had a fantastic alternative justice program in place. We could deal with first-time offenders in a lot of categories. We could change their behaviour and thus they weren't a drag on the justice system. We could spare everybody."

"I will definitely be advocating for that [to be part of the Conservative platform], because I know the good work that these folks do. It is fantastic work, and it needs to be supported."

On making minimum payments on the provincial credit card:

"In British Columbia, we do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.

"Just today, B.C. [bond debt] was downgraded. What that means is the cost of borrowing is going to kill us. We have a provincial credit card, and we've maxed out the card. And we're making minimum payments now. When the price of natural gas goes down... we have trouble making those payments.

"How insane is this to have MLAs meet behind closed doors, and decide their own wages, decide their own benefits, decide their own -- if they get kicked out of office -- transition allowance. I mean, if there's anything that will eliminate anybody's trust in the political system, it's that kind of closed-door, backhanded operation of things.

"This has got to be opened up. We have got to open up the whole process so that it's above-board."

On knuckle-dragging and the carbon tax:

"The carbon tax is a very, very unfair tax, especially for people who live in the North. It's minus 30 today. It's friggin' cold! We have to heat our homes, and every time we heat our homes, we're paying more for carbon tax.

"Last time I heard, the carbon tax was revenue-neutral. Really? I spent hours -- hours -- trying to chase down the huge amount of funds that are collected, and where they're spent. Couldn't do it.

"We need to scrap the carbon tax altogether. We're the only jurisdiction in North America that has it. It's an impediment to business, it's an impediment to industry.

"I'm not a knuckle-dragger. I live in this country. I want to make sure that it stays as pristine as possible for the next generation. But simply invoking a tax and a one-size-fits-all does not work.

"I think a better solution is if you give a dollar to a private citizen, he can do 10 times with a dollar what the government can do. The citizens need to decide how they want to be able to reduce their carbon imprint. There's other ways to do it besides the government trying to force everyone into the same mold, because it's just not working."  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Elections

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