B.C. Premier John Horgan worked to smooth political divides Wednesday at the Natural Resources Forum in Prince George, promising to "bring together" urban and rural communities, as well as First Nations.
Speaking to a crowd of 900 delegates, it was the NDP leader's most high-profile appearance in northern British Columbia since becoming premier last summer — after an election that saw his party lose support in every region outside of the Lower Mainland.
Liberal party members have been speaking out about an urban-rural divide in the province, raising concerns that the premier's interest in proportional representation will hurt rural and northern communities.
Horgan addressed those concerns as the keynote speaker at the forum, which brings together politicians and business leaders within the province's natural resource industry.
If it were not for the corporate offices in Vancouver... we wouldn't have the activity we have in rural British Columbia - John Horgan
"I believe that the urban-rural divide issue is designed to divide British Columbians, and it's my commitment to you and it's my commitment to British Columbians that my government is going to be focused on uniting British Columbians," he said.
"There is not a divide we cannot bring together."
Horgan said he wants people in the Lower Mainland to know about the importance of the resource industry, and he wants people in rural B.C. to recognize "the dynamism of our urban centres and how they have become economic engines for success in British Columbia."
"If it were not for the corporate offices in Vancouver... we wouldn't have the activity we have in rural British Columbia," he said.
Horgan also spoke about the importance of working with Indigenous communities, acknowledging he was speaking on the "unceded territory of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation."
"British Columbia is on unceded territory," he said in remarks to media later. "The courts have told us repeatedly that [Indigenous] rights and title exist. To go back and fight those battles again is counterproductive."
However, the province may be in just such a battle after the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations started legal action Tuesday claiming the construction of the Site C dam violates their treaty rights.
"In the eyes of some Indigenous people, [Site C] has alienated their rights and title," Horgan said. "And they're within their rights to take to take that question to court. But if we continue to fight over the existence of rights and title... I believe that's wasting public money."
In an interview Wednesday with CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk, West Moberly Chief Roland Willson said he has tried multiple times to meet with Horgan, without success.
"He stated he would come up and meet with us, and never has," Willson said.
"He's already made his mind up."
Thursday will mark six months since Horgan became premier.