Bob Price asks prominent journalists to share 2019’s top stories in their respective communities.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?
At this time of year, journalists like to look back at the year that was. Often, past events can foretell the road ahead! We are lucky in British Columbia to have many of Canada’s most talented and dedicated news reporters who strive each and every day to accurately share the events that shape our lives.
I recently polled several of the interior’s top journalists to determine what mattered most in 2019 in their individual communities.
This is what they told me.
Showtime in Canada’s Tournament Capital
The biggest news story of the year in Kamloops — in ambition, dollars and scope — is the revival of a plan to construct a performing arts centre downtown. The $70-million, three-theatre project has been promoted by a citizens’ committee for the past several years, and has received approval from City council for a referendum next April.
In many ways, the plan is similar to one defeated in a 2015 referendum – but this time taxpayers are being told the retirement of debt on the city’s Tournament Capital Centre will mean no increase in taxes. That could be a key consideration for voters but the yes and no sides are already settling in for a long and possibly acrimonious public debate.
-Mel Rothenburger – Armchair mayor/Former editor-Kamloops Daily News
The end of Cranbrook’s Ice age
A fabled chapter in Cranbrook’s rich hockey history wrote its final page in 2019. The rumour mill had been circulating for years, with projections of the departure of the Kootenay ICE following dwindling attendance, and a contentious relationship between the fanbase and a new Winnipeg-based ownership group.
The WHL confirmed on January 29 that the Kootenay ICE’s long-rumoured move to Winnipeg would become a reality at the end of the 2018-2019 regular season.
The team used its last few months in Cranbrook to honour the team’s run in Cranbrook, which included recognizing longtime NHLer and ICE alum Jarret Stoll as the initial inductee into the ICE Hall of Fame.
The ICE left Cranbrook with an undeniable legacy, which includes three WHL Championships and one Memorial Cup.
Cranbrook’s hockey legacy begins a new chapter in 2020 with the introduction of the BCHL’s Cranbrook Bucks.
-Wylie Henderson – News Director, B104 Radio
Economic resilience story of the year in Prince George
Since the summer there has been a litany of curtailments and shutdowns as the Interior’s forest sector suffers the consequences of the pine beetle epidemic, the softwood lumber tariff and low demand for Canadian lumber.
But when it comes to Prince George, those chickens have barely come home to roost. Although rising, the city’s unemployment rate remains below the historic average of seven per cent – testimony to the resilience of a much more diversified local economy. From a sawmill and pulpmill town, Prince George has grown into more of a regional service centre, particularly as mining activity in the region looks ready to pick up and the massive LNG Canada project gets underway in Kitimat.
Of course, it helps that with the exception of one local sawmill, operations in and around Prince George have generally been chugging along as normal. Contractors with heavy machinery seem to be finding work elsewhere, notably clearing the way for the Coastal GasLink and Trans Mountain pipelines. Within the city, meanwhile, the value of construction, as measured through the building permit process, is on course to set another record.
That hasn’t stopped politicians from turning the apparent trouble into a political football. When the NDP government decided to divert money from the rural dividend program into a support package for displaced sawmill workers, the Opposition went into high rage. But the package gained the support of United Steelworkers Local 1-2017 president Brian O’Rourke, who matched the volume on behalf of his members, many of whom are aging and more than ready to take a buyout.
There is no doubt the local economy is going through a transition but for once, Prince George has been more or less weathering the fallout that comes with the busts that follow the booms.
-Mark Nielsen, Prince George Citizen
The biggest story for overall impact in Kelowna during 2019 was the homeless situation.In their annual New Year’s countdown, Kelowna Daily Courier staff chose it as the year’s No. 1 story. (Newsmaker of the Year, which will be announced January 2, is voted on by the public.)
A day, literally, doesn’t go by where there isn’t at least one letter to the editor that deals with the homeless situation, drug epidemic, or social housing. Terms such as “wet facility” are now part of everyday conversation.
City council and senior staff at city hall are under constant attack for the way they’ve handled the crisis. Council is attempting to solve the problem through its Journey Home project and providing more shelter beds during the cold spell.
The issue is polarizing as many in the community are sympathetic, but have had enough when it leads to petty crime, vandalism, loitering, and constant panhandling. Several businesses on or near Leon Avenue have relocated or closed because seniors are frightened to patronize the stores.
-James Miller, Managing Editor, Kelowna Daily Courier/Penticton Herald
Penticton Shooting Rampage
On what was an ordinarily quiet day – Monday, April 15, 2019 – in ordinarily quiet neighbourhoods, a lone gunman went on a shooting rampage and murdered four senior citizens. According to police, the dispute between two neighbours began over shrubs on a property line.
It was the worst mass shooting in the city’s history and was the lead story for two consecutive nights on both CTV and CBC’s national newscasts.
The suspect, John Brittain, turned himself into police shortly after the fourth victim was gunned down. The community responded with a candlelight vigil, two nights later. Children of several of the victims are now suing Britain and his ex-wife, Kathy Britain (who often used the alias ‘Cheryl James’), claiming the two conspired on the shootings. John Brittain remains in police custody, and is scheduled to go to trial in 2020.
-James Miller, Managing Editor, Kelowna Daily Courier/Penticton Herald
Forest Crisis Leaves Thousands Jobless
The top British Columbia story of 2019 was one that garnered nowhere the media coverage it deserved.
I’m referring to the worsening crisis in the province’s forest industry, which now has whole communities in a near-death grip spiral and has cost thousands of people their livelihoods. But because so much of the economic carnage has occurred outside of Metro Vancouver and the Capital Region, this crisis simply hasn’t registered on many radar screens of the population in those heavily-populated centres, which relies on news outlets more focused on urban and suburban issues than on issues that are dominant in the Interior and the North.
This crisis, which shows no signs of alleviating or softening, can be a long-range catastrophe for literally dozens of small towns and communities sprinkled around the province, whose reliance on the local sawmill or forestry operation represents almost 100 per cent of the local economy.
So when the mill closes, so too eventually do local cafes, hardware stores, shopping marts and all kinds of small businesses until eventually the town almost ceases to exist. The alarming thing about all this is that there may be no way back, since no obvious solution exists. Fibre supply is low, the softwood dispute potentially strangles a stumpage rate solution, and some forest companies seem to be betting that their own futures may best be served by shedding B.C. operations.
Against this dispiriting backdrop, we have a provincial government whose interest in solving, or at least softening, this crisis is dwarfed by its enthusiasm in solving the affordability issue for so many urban and suburban voters, whether that involves things like housing or transit.
This whole sorry mess is reflective of the entrenched rural/urban divide that has taken hold of this province, and perhaps more significantly, of our provincial electoral map as well. The NDP’s key to re-election is to hold their seats in urban and suburban areas, as their chances of breaking through to new ground in the Interior and the North now seem remote. But perhaps the forest crisis may well force it to reconsider its position and pour resources into assisting these communities most affected.
Perhaps that’s wishful thinking, but you never know.
-Keith Baldrey – Legislative Bureau Chief, Global.
With a new year, comes new hope. To you the reader, we sincerely wish that 2020 brings good news and good health! Happy New Year!
Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.
Let’s look back some of Bob Price’s best pieces from 2019: