Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns completed his Ride The Riding cycle tour Saturday in Courtenay, and described it as a cultural and informative experience.
While the underlying agenda of the “historic” 13-day excursion was bringing his National Cycling Strategy to the forefront in his own riding, it quickly became much more than that.
“We started up in Hesquiat, which has two houses… It was the first time they had ever had a Member of Parliament in their [community] in the 150-year history of our country. So I felt really honoured to be there… but also embarrassed that we hadn’t been out there before.”
Johns and a support entourage cycled the entire riding, putting on approximately 300 kilometres while visiting “every single community in the riding.
“When I ran in 2015 I promised that everyone would count in our riding. I meant that,” said Johns.
He was particularly humbled at how the First Nations communities embraced his visits.
“I was invited to join the [Hesquiat] community for Hesquiat Days… meeting with their elders and listening to them about what’s important to them. We traveled from there to Hot Springs Cove, then to Ahousat, where we met with Chief and council – great to see the children in the community, and cycle with them in their skatepark.”
The journey continued through Tofino, the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and to Tlaoquiaht.
“We were greeted by Chief and council and they sang a beautiful victory and welcome song to us. Again, it was [an] incredible honour.”
The tour headed back towards Port Alberni, stopping in every community along the way and with every stop, each community greeted the entourage with open arms and celebrations.
After a stop in Port Alberni, the tour headed up over the Highway 4 “hump” with a stop in Cathedral Grove, where Johns met with tourists “from all over the world, reminding us about the beauty that we have.”
The tour continued to Coombs, Errington, Nanoose Bay, and then north.
It even made a stop on Lasqueti Island.
“That was incredible,” said Johns. “We met a woman who came out to the end of her driveway to tell us a very important message about accessibility. We had a woman run out of her farmhouse and invite us onto her farm so we could learn more about agriculture.”
Riding along Highway 19A, the tour continued north through Bowser, Qualicum, Denman, Hornby, Deep Bay, Union Bay, Royston and Cumberland, with events in each community.
“In every community, we heard lots of concerns around our fish, our salmon,” said Johns. “We know that the health of our salmon is the health of our community. Certainly affordable housing, we heard [concerns] from every community.
“Reconciliation with Indigenous people, and the discriminatory policies that are happening today, and people concerned about the inequality that’s happening in our communities today.”
In total, the tour stopped in 28 different communities within the riding, with “hundreds of people” joining the entourage for spurts along the way.
Part of the purpose of the journey was to promote Johns’s Private Member’s Bill C-312: An Act to Establish a National Cycling Strategy.
He said there’s still a lot of work to do, not only in his riding, but throughout the country.
“I think that what we’ve seen, is we know that every community has needs, in terms of safe cycling,” he said. “Some communities are ahead of the others, but really, Ottawa has been missing in action.
“Right now Ottawa has not committed anything to safe cycling in our country. We are failing, when it comes to safe cycling, compared to other countries. We haven’t made that commitment we have to make. We’ve got soaring health care costs, soaring infrastructure costs, the need to lower greenhouse gases, and cycling takes us one step closer to dealing with those issues.
“Heart disease costs Canadians $12 billion a year, and people who ride their bikes to work and back reduce the risk of heart disease by 41 per cent. So, it saves us money on health care; it saves us money on infrastructure, because cycling infrastructure is a lot cheaper to maintain than vehicle infrastructure; and it lowers our carbon footprint.”
He finished by acknowledging his support crew.
“You can’t do a 13-day trip like this without great people around you. We’ve got an incredible team… they brought together the volunteers at every stop. We had a lead in every community, and a tanker on every bike ride …who led us through their communities instead of us leading ourselves, so it was just incredible, the amount of support we had.”