The BC NDP candidate Sherry Ogasawara was in the Robson Valley for a few days last week, stopping in McBride, Dunster and Valemount. Ogasawara is a registered dietitian, the owner of SO Fit Company – Nutrition, Fitness and Lifestyle Consultants and is a Population Health Dietitian for the Northern Health Authority. She is also a broadcast journalist and a voice on fitness, nutrition and lifestyle issues. She is the health reporter for CKPG news.

Have you been to the Robson Valley before?

Many, many times – I’m from Prince George, but I work for Northern Health so this is part of my region.

What is your position with Northern Health?

Sherry Ogasawara, BC NDP candidate

I’m a population health dietitian for preventative public health. My portfolio is internal food policy, so it complements our external food policy regarding biodiversity in agriculture, developing food policy councils; it’s working towards developing internal policies for procurement.

What issues do you see in BC being related to agriculture and health? Do you have a certain area that you’d like to shape or improve?

If we form government and I manage to be successful, I really don’t have a choice in where I end up and how my skill sets end up being used, but certainly from the passion of looking at it – one of the things we see are food systems not being able to link into the local. We need to have some firm policy and firm direction around that.
It goes back to a bigger thing. Food is a right. We have lost the ability to exercise our human rights because of the fact that so many people are unable to afford nutritious, good food. People are being offered all kinds of quick, processed, preserved, packaged food – people can afford to buy calories, but they can’t afford to buy nutrition. And when we lose out on that, everybody loses.

If we get people back to real food, we contribute to agriculture, we contribute to economies, we support local farmers – those are linkages that have to be made. But we have to get people able to afford real food – action on poverty reduction is the big thing. Everything is linked together. Education is linked to that – if kids aren’t eating good food, they’re not learning. Criminal activity can be linked to that as well. We need to get back to what’s simple and what’s real.

How do we support local economies?

If we can get people buying 10 per cent locally on goods and services, the multiplying effect is actually six times that amount. That dollar becomes six dollars in a local economy.

When I hear someone say ‘Well we need those resources but we’ll just get them from Amazon, because we can just go online and they bring them right to your door.’ Not one nickel of that dollar that gets spent online helps infuse the local economy. Well, let’s buy it from Coles or Chapters. Ok, people have to work in that store, so there’s some influence in local economies. But when it comes down to it, local small business is really here it’s at. A local small bookstore – that’s where you should buy your book. We need to bring it to the conscious level. Then without taxing people more, we can provide more services because we have that multiplying effect of that dollar turning into six.

Why did you decide to run?

There are a number of factors. I think it goes back to my set of core values and who I am. I’m from the Okanagan Valley a second-generation Japanese Canadian and so my grandma had come over from Japan and we lived on an Orchard. That was a lot of hard work. So the virtue of hard work, but also my grandma taught me that you don’t just take care of yourself, you take care of everybody.
Those things about having a social conscience, being concerned about the welfare of other people. We’re all in this together. So a sense of community.

I’ve sat back for the past 12 years and watched the policy changes that have devastated communities, that have taken away some of our social service structures. Education has been affected – and I have small children. I sat back and watched that and it just got to the breaking point where I can’t sit back and be an observer anymore, someone has to step forward.

I had a conversation with someone the other day and she said, ‘Well, you know, if things turn around and we have a different government, did you not realize this is going to be a really hard job?’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah. Actually I do! And it’s really a mess.’ But I said to her, ‘Somebody has to do this, somebody has to step out and say this is not ok anymore and we have to turn this around.’ So all the things that were instilled in me, like hard work, and all the other values, I bring that forward to the table. And the core values of the party align with my own personal values. There absolutely zero incongruence. And am I afraid of hard work? No.

This part now is the easy part. People say ‘Oh, campaigning. It’s going to be exhausting!’ And I said ‘Not as exhausting as when we actually have to deal with things that are real and affect the real lives of people.’ The more I connect to people and put faces behind issues, for instance mental illness and sexual violence – those are the faces of the people that I see, and I remember that’s what it’s about. It’s about making things better for British Columbians.

I’ve never eaten an elephant but apparently you do it one bite at a time.

What do you see as being the biggest issues for the North or this constituency that need to be addressed right away?

One of the things front and centre is advanced education and skills training. We know that 70 per cent of the jobs in the future are going to require advanced education and skills training. But we have to make it accessible. One of the things we’ve released about our platform is that we’re going to put back in place non-repayable student grants; students shouldn’t be graduating with an incredible mountain of debt.

This whole thing with temporary foreign workers – we have people in BC. It’s not that we’re against people being brought to Canada and being able to do that work, but if we have people here who can do the work, why aren’t we investing in our own residents, our own population. Why are we looking elsewhere?

Then there’s the whole problem of labour laws and labour codes that people who come from other countries sometimes don’t have access to – that’s unfortunate as well. The standards aren’t the same.

Environment is also a big issue, because we’ve had those joint review panels (on pipeline development) happening around the province. Adrian Dix has made the announcement that we will be taking back that environmental assessment process that was given away to the federal government, and we’re going to look at restructuring a made-in-BC model.

We have to look at what those pipelines are shipping too. This pipeline is transporting bitumen; we’re taking raw unrefined product and so basically we’re shipping our jobs, we’re waving goodbye to them at the coast. We’re shipping those jobs off to China and other countries we’re exporting to. It’s the same thing with raw log exports. We really have to look at how we can turn that around and say, ‘Ok is there a possibility of doing some value-added processes before we ship stuff elsewhere?’

How do you see that happening, that kind of protectionism? What words would you use to describe it?

It’s about protecting economies within the province. We have to look at what’s best for the province first. We’re not saying we want to stop raw log exports. We want to look at how we can best add points within the process where perhaps we can add value to it before we ship it off. But there are some things we just can’t re-establish. There are some things that have been completely dismantled, like in forest policy. To put those things back in place the way it was is impossible.

Is the future in community forests?

That’s something we’re hearing a lot about; it seems to be a pretty contentious issue. Who actually is managing the community forest? It’s difficult to make any firm statement on it as to where exactly we stand. I’m going to be taking back the conversations we’ve had. We’ve heard polar opposing viewpoints. I want to explore more with our caucus critic Norm MacDonald who holds that portfolio.

How will the NDP help the Robson Valley attract/spur development?

First of all, it’s this process we’re involved in right now. I don’t think there’s someone here who’s listening to what’s going on, because how can they be? If you drive down the street and you see businesses and windows with paper on them… I’ve come to these communities before and I’ve never seen these communities in the Robson Valley like this before. I look at the closure of the forestry office in McBride. That building was a brand-new building and then it was instantly announced that the forest office was closed. Why would you close down a rural office when we know that technology can allow those workers to contribute to the entire region from that office and preserve the economic supports that those jobs and families who live there bring to the economic table?

If we have to cut back in some way shape or form, why wouldn’t we choose a larger centre, where the impact of those layoffs could have been better absorbed?

How are you going to connect with this area, both the people and the issues? It’s 2-3 hours from Prince George and I know MLAs have a jet-setting lifestyle.

By being here. By coming out and talking to people, having town hall discussions.

Why is supporting rural areas like this important?

Because rural areas drive provincial economies. Let’s be serious. The GDP for the province comes from the North, which provides three quarters of the GDP for the province. The economic reality of remote and rural areas is that we bring in economy and we bring in ideas. We do a lot with a little. The other part of the province actually learns a lot from us.

Laura Keil