Pressing council to pick a side

“Our once vibrant college is dying,” says RPEC member

In the story published in Lakes District News’ Jan. 18 issue, when asked for letters of support, village council decided not to take sides in regard to the proposed new college in Burns Lake.

A local group called rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC) has been working to establish a Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) campus in Burns Lake. If RPEC’s plan is successful, the new campus would replace the Lakes District campus of the College of New Caledonia (CNC).

During a regular council meeting last week, community members used the public comment period of the meeting to press council to make a decision.

Rick Pooley with RPEC stressed how services at CNC have declined over the past few years.

“Not long ago we had a vibrant successful local college that enriched our entire community educationally, socially and economically,” he told council. “It was closely connected to local decision makers and local needs. Now we don’t.”

“Our vibrant college was taken from us, disempowered by outsiders who did not respect its critical role here,” he continued. “Our college today is what these decision makers apparently wanted it to be – a minor player in our community; our once vibrant college is dying.”

“You have a choice – you can change the outcome of this story,” he added.

Scott Zayac with RPEC also addressed council by saying he does not understand why this proposed college is creating division in the community.

Zayac pointed out that seven letters – from the six local First Nations communities and the Village of Burns Lake – were sent to the Ministry of Advanced Education last year supporting the proposed NVIT campus in Burns Lake.

Since then, the village has decided to remain impartial, Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s chief has rescinded her support, and Burns Lake Band’s chief has said he would rather support CNC.

In a letter to council, RPEC’s chair Bernice Magee said that although it is not up to council to decide whether NVIT will be established in Burns Lake, it is council’s responsibility to communicate to the ministry what the community needs.

“We understand that council feels it is not their role to choose a post-secondary institution for the community; however, we feel that as the elected representatives for the people of Burns Lake, it is within your mandate to inform the province about local post-secondary education needs, as expressed so clearly by community members over the past two years,” said Magee.

“LBN is more than a simple stakeholder,” says LBN councillor

Lake Babine Nation (LBN) councillor Darren Patrick also used the public comment period of the Burns Lake council meeting last week to express LBN’s views.

Patrick pointed out that the number of on-reserve members of LBN – about 1400 – is significantly larger than the on-reserve population of the other five local First Nations communities combined – about 370.

“The size of Lake Babine Nation does and will play a key role in municipal politics,” said Patrick. “We know that LBN votes influenced the most recent by-election and will surely make a difference in the outcome of the next election of the Village of Burns Lake.”

“As an elected council, we are in full support of bringing in NVIT and have them become our post-secondary partner here in the Lakes District,” he continued. “As the Village of Burns Lake council, you need to remember that you’re responsible for your constituents within the municipal boundaries with an on-reserve population that makes up almost half of the population of the municipality of Burns Lake.”

“Lake Babine Nation is more than just a simple stakeholder,” he added.

Patrick said LBN is now actively working in partnership with NVIT to bring new post-secondary programming to the Lakes District.

“We are not waiting for a decision from the Ministry of Advanced Education,” he said. “We are simply moving forward and doing it.”

“I think we’re going to end up with nothing,” says mayor

During last week’s council meeting, Burns Lake Mayor Chris Beach said he’s concerned about what will happen if the proposed Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) campus is not established in Burns Lake.

“My worry now is that we’re going to lose the whole campus,” said Beach, referring to the declining number of students at the Lakes District campus of the College of New Caledonia (CNC).

“I think we’re going to end up with nothing and it’s going to be an absolute disaster for the community,” he continued. “CNC has done nothing to change that [declining number of students and programs offered] in the last year; they’ve had their opportunity and they didn’t.”

“This is about the whole community and the future of the community,” he added. “I believe NVIT is going to make a success out of whatever northern community they go into; and if it’t not ours, they are looking for another northern hub.”

Given the current efforts of the village to address the impending reduction in annual allowable cut, Beach said establishing a new college in town would be an economic opportunity for the entire region.

“At some point we need to make a decision,” says councillor

During last week’s council meeting, councillor Michael Riis-Christianson said that although he has a sentimental attachment to the College of New Caledonia (CNC), he agrees that the Lakes District campus is no longer the vibrant campus it used to be in the past.

“I think this issue has been divisive and will continue to be divisive, but at some point we need to make a decision,” he said.

“We need to hear from NVIT firsthand,” says councillor

Councillor Kelly Holliday said she appreciates all the work that the rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC) has done to bring a new college to Burns Lake. However, she said she would prefer to hear firsthand from the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT).

“We heard from RPEC, but we need to meet these people [from NVIT] face to face and get a feel for their body language and find out from them firsthand what their plan is,” said Holliday. “I think it’s time that NVIT comes to the stage.”

Mayor Chris Beach said that based on conversations he’s had with the NVIT executive, the college has purposely chosen not to interfere in the decision making process taking place in Burns Lake.

At the end of the meting, council passed a motion to set up a formal presentation from NVIT to the Village of Burns Lake.