Upwards of 50 people turned out to the Pioneer Complex Sunday in Williams Lake to listen, and to lend their voice to speaking up for resource communities, workers and families in B.C.
Originating out of Kitimat in 2018, #TheNorthMatters began as a small group sitting around a table to bring people in resource communities together so they can have a voice, said Kitimat-based resident Dave Johnston, the organizer of the movement.
Johnston spoke at the information meeting alongside fellow group member Steve Simons of Vancouver Island and made it clear the movement does not intend to be partisan to any government, or political, and said it rose out of his frustration with misinformation being spread about resource communities from U.S.- and corporate-funded protesters and activists.
“This is a really good turnout,” said Johnston, who has spoken at meetings in Fort Nelson, Quesnel, Prince George, Houston and Smithers prior to coming to the lakecity. “This is obviously a really engaged community.”
VIDEO: Dave Johnston introduces #TheNorthMatters to the crowd in Williams Lake
Johnston said the main goal of #TheNorthMatters is to build a positive relationship and to have a collective voice throughout the province in order to have “a seat at the table to protect our communities.”
“We’re invested and going to go full speed ahead,” he said. “There’s strength in numbers so that’s the approach we’re taking. We can start having an impact … it’s basically taking the name recognition and tapping into the network we have because there are so many resources available to people in it.”
Also speaking at the meeting were Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb, Cariboo-Chilcotin Liberal MLA Donna Barnett and Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty.
After introducing the group, Johnston and Simons fielded a few questions from the audience, before audience members were left to discuss whether they would want an autonomous group formed in Williams Lake under the #TheNorthMatters banner.
“Each community would have its own autonomy, bank account, insurance and be part of that connection,” he said.
Questions from audience members included those on how the group would handle corporate donations should the opportunity present itself, and how they would be different from other business associations, or governments, attempting to lobby in much the same way.
“We don’t want to be seen as shills,” Johnston said. “A donation would come with no strings attached.”
On differentiating themselves from other lobby groups, Johnston said he hopes to amplify the voices of multiple communities by combining them into one strong voice.
“If we can compliment each other, and provide awareness and education, many citizens together can give politicians a reason to do things,” he said.
Speaking passionately, Barnett, who said she was at the meeting as a grandmother, and not a politician, said land use issues in the province need to be settled before any stability can be reached.
“If you’re going to sit there and let people shoot at you you might as well stand up and leave this room,” she said.
A strong, united voice for everyone is going to be necessary and it’s going to be difficult to achieve, she added.
“No one’s here to cause a problem,” she said. “We’re here to solve a problem.”
Also fired up on the topic at hand, Doherty said he wished 200 to 300 people were in attendance.
“This is our way of life,” he stressed. “We always get walked on as if we’re second-rate citizens. We have amazing families, opportunities, but we have let things permeate and now it’s time to stand together. We need to protect the environment, but we need to make sure you people have jobs. We still haven’t recovered from the wildfires [of 2017]. Now we’re facing even more uncertain times.”
#TheNorthMatters recently launched its new website at www.thenorthmatters.org where more information is available, and they can be followed on Facebook at ‘The North Matters.’