John Cummins

John Cummins

B.C. Conservative leader talks taxes, the environmental review process, treaties, and Family Day in Williams Lake

BC Conservative Party leader John Cummins stopped in Williams Lake on June 19 during a "listening" tour.

BC Conservative Party leader John Cummins stopped in Williams Lake on June 19 during a “listening” tour as his party looks ahead to the 2013 provincial election.

Speaking to half a dozen locals in a restaurant over the lunch hour, Cummins said while personal income taxes are low in B.C., residents pay higher taxes in the form of the carbon tax, MSP premiums and environmental taxes.

“What else is alarming is that more people left the province last year to live and work in other provinces than came here,” Cummins said.

The “high tax regime” is driving people away, he added.

Cummins argued the carbon tax increases the cost of doing business and is more of a burden to people living outside the Lower Mainland, partly because public transportation isn’t available everywhere and partly because many need bigger vehicles.

He said by spending smarter, or holding the level of spending, the government could offset not recuperating the approximate $1.4 billion it would gain from collecting the carbon tax.

When it comes to the development of natural resource projects, Cummins said his party is committed to a rigorous environmental assessment process, but one that needs to be accelerated.

“People in this country don’t want to ignore the environment — they’re very concerned about the environment and they want the environmental process to be thorough. They want to know what the real cost of moving the project is. But what they also want are the jobs and the benefits.”

He said the environmental impact has to be balanced with the social and economic benefits that are going to flow from the project.

“You have to look down the road and say what’s the landscape going to look like when you’ve completed that project. When I look at New Prosperity, I think that the environmental impacts can be mitigated and the social and economic benefits are large enough that the project should go ahead.”

Criticizing the federal environmental assessment of the original Prosperity Mine project for only looking at the environmental impact, Cummins said there needs to be a working relationship between the province and the federal government to look at the big picture.

“When First Nations’ fishing and hunting rights are impacted, there has to be some consideration, but no one community should have the veto over that project. At the end of the day, the decision has to be a decision from the provincial government.”

When asked about the treaty process in B.C., he pointed to recently signed treaties as expensive.

“Treaties have to be affordable and we have to realize that we’re all in this together, whether we’re native or non-native.”

He also said small business is taking a big hit in B.C.

“In the last budget, the two and half per cent small business tax was supposed to be eliminated, but on April 1 it was retained. The minimum wage went up without any consultation with business people.”

He said another big cost, to government and to small business, will be the Family Day holiday in February.

He said B.C.’s unemployment rate is high — in May it was 7.4 per cent.

“That’s staggering compared to the other western provinces,” he said. “When there’s no jobs all we’re doing is driving people out of the province.”

Cummins served as a federal MP for nearly 18 years representing Delta/Richmond. He served for the Reformers, then Canadian Alliance, and finally the Conservatives.

He lives in Langley, but said he hasn’t decided what riding he’ll run in yet.

So far upwards of 60 people have filed to be candidates, but the nomination process won’t take place until the fall.

He predicted that if his party stays at home it will result in an NDP government being voted in.

“The fact that we’re in the game is the best option because it means there’s a better chance. If there is an NDP government, it will be a minority government. Or with us being in the game, my view is that we could attract enough votes that in a three-way split we could form government.”