Christy Clark: Premier MLA
Vineyards bring us to what may be the touchstone of Clark’s first term as an Okanagan MLA—the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). It’s a passionate topic as evidenced by the feisty council debates in Kelowna as development pressures grew over the last decade, or more recently in Summerland, where a young action group sprang up in opposition to the council’s decision to swap prime farmland with land on the far outskirts of town.
The premier has declared her position. “We need to make sure that it is working as intended, but the ALR has a bright future in our province,” she says. “I’m included in that long list of British Columbians (85 per cent) that say the Agricultural Land Reserve is important. We intend to preserve it.
“It is really important here in the Okanagan, obviously. We have some of the richest farmland you find anywhere else in the world, we need to preserve and protect that, but we need to modernize it and make sure it’s working as well.”
That modernization comes with a price tag of $4 million and the tutelage of Bill Bennett, minister of energy and mines, who is tasked with undertaking a core review of government. For many British Columbians any tinkering with the land trust put in place over 40 years ago raises suspicion.
For Okanagan residents, the key question remains: can a Vancouverite represent the needs of Valley folk?
“I don’t see my role as MLA in delivery for this community as being something that’s going to be at the expense of the rest of the province, it’s going to benefit the rest of the province,” she says.
“Every MLA does this. You bring the concerns and the needs of your community to the table as part of everything that you do, every discussion that you have. Technology is a good example. I know a lot about the technology ecosystem here in the Valley and my vision is to make that a big part of growing this economy in the future.
“When I sit down and talk about our tech strategy for the whole province, I’m often thinking about how is that going to benefit the Okanagan, how we are going to make sure some of what we do works outside the Lower Mainland. An urban-centred economic policy is not necessarily going to have an impact in rural communities and smaller communities. In the bigger policy picture, it has been great to be able to bring a non-Vancouver/Victoria based perspective to the table.”
Clark announces her intent to run in Westside-Kelowna by-election. Above photos by Wade Paterson/Capital News.
Economics and education
“Traditionally this economy has been agriculture, it has been retirement and it has been tourism,” says Clark about the Okanagan. “We need to sustain this economy with some other industries and there is such huge potential.”
The premier, like many others, is looking to the promise of the technology sector. She’s quick to praise the work of government-funded Accelerate Okanagan whose mandate is to offer support to entrepreneurs and technology companies looking to start, accelerate and grow. However, Clark knows there’s more work to be done.
“You can’t build an economy, or a sector of the economy like tech, if you don’t have people to work in it,” she says. “We need to make sure we are integrating our post-secondary institutions better with the industry in the region as well—it’s true for education across the board.”
Clark, who herself attended three prestigious universities, but graduated from none, holds strong opinions on education. As minister of education in the Campbell government she was responsible for some very controversial decisions and remains embroiled in controversy over the education system today.