April 29, 2013 - 12:28 PM
From business owners to road workers and fruit growers, Mike Nuyens says he knows his Lake Country constituents well. While often portrayed as a 'union guy' in the media, he says that's only part of his story. His first job was working alongside his father on their orchard in Lake Country, where he was born and raised.
“I managed the orchard until I was about 30, we have 100 acres of Orchard out on the Carrs Landing Road.” But struggling to turn a profit, Nuyens made a career switch. He started his own excavation business, and later a small gravel pit business.
“Very quickly the business took over, I did that for about 30 years and just sold my company three years ago,” he says.
When business was slow in the winter, Nuyens found full-time work plowing snow for a road maintenance contractor and with that, a place in the union movement. Today he represents highway workers throughout the province and sits on the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union.
Nuyens says these dynamic career shifts make him an ideal representative for Lake Country. “What I bring to the table is my labour connection, my business connection and my connection to the agriculture,” he says. “It gives me the opportunity to be very qualified for this particular area.”
As both an employer and employee, Nuyens says he understands both sides of the work contract. Operating his own business required him to be both accountant and counsellor.
“It needs to work for both sides, even though I'm a union guy I still know you have to have a working relationship with your employer - I used to be one,” he says.
Running for the NDP party, he hopes to bring some equality back into the labor code. He says he experieced first-hand the Liberal government cuts from 2001 to 2004 which forced many sectors to modify their collective agreements and give back hard earned rights, wages and benefits.
“Most workers won't talk too much about their employer because they're scared they're going to be fired,” he says.
Issues for Kelowna's younger generations hit close to home for Nuyens. He has two sons both planning to live and work in the city.
“My sons are trying to gain good quality jobs, my youngest boy being a trades apprentice.” Nuyens wants to see improvements to apprenticeship programs and training courses. He says the pass rate is sitting around 40 per cent, where it should be closer to 70-80 per cent.
“When my son did his course there were 15 students, two of them passed, the other 13 failed,” he says. His eldest son is encountering the difficulties of finding affordable housing in Kelowna.
“He's paying $1,800 month for a house and has to have three other people living with him to afford it,” Nuyens says. “More and more of the younger generation are being forced out of the Kelowna area, because the good paying jobs are not here and it's very expensive to live here.”
Another issue Nuyens says is near and dear to his heart is the agricultural struggle facing Kelowna's fruit growers.
“When you buy an apple out of a store you pay around $1.15 per pound. The return to grower is 20 cents a pound, where the production cost is 28 cents a pound,” he says.
The NDP is proposing an $8 million BuyGrowFeed program to help farmers trying to profit from their produce. The program would offer growers ongoing support to replant their orchards in place of the Liberal government's one-time amount. The program will also require hospitals to have a minimum of 5% locally sourced food.
“Competition is good – but a good living is also good,” he says.
“We're flooded with fruit from Washington State – it drives down the prices – Washington producers are subsidized a lot more than our farmers.” He also points to the Columbia Basin Water Treaty signed in the Social Credit days. “We put dams in place which generated power but also created more irrigated lands in Washington state,” he says. The result is being felt by fruit growers from Vernon to Creston and Osoyoos.
“A lot of growers might sell some property to stay in business or they look at alternatives like getting into the wine industry and growing grapes,” he says.
Nuyens is also keeping an eye on the bigger picture of B.C.'s energy future. “The Enbridge pipeline, we're opposed to it,” he says.
“The impacts on environment far exceed any gains, why would we entertain doing something that would impact our rivers, streams and coastal environment?” he asks.
Instead he wants to see more Liquid Natural Gas projects going forward and with that, investment in alternative energy. For example, he says the turbine added to the Beaver Lake water pipeline now generates enough power for 1,100 homes.
“I look out the window and see all the polluting cars driving around. We need to fight Big Oil a little bit more,” he says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at email@example.com or call (250)718-0428.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013