Premier Christy Clark was in Burns Lake on May 9, 2013, to take part in a local community celebration of the Babine Forest Products Sawmill rebuild. She was joined by Nechako-Lakes MLA John Rustad.
Village of Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold gave premier Clark a ceremonial key to the Village of Burns Lake in recognition of the work her government has done to put Burns Lake back on its feet after the tragedy of the sawmill explosion on Jan. 20, 2012 that took the lives of two workers and injured 19 more.
Mayor Strimbold also credited Clark and Rustad for their roles in two other major investment decisions. A new $51 million hospital is being built, as well as the multi-use facility expansion of the Burns Lake Tom Forsyth Memorial Arena. Both of those projects are currently under construction.
The visit was not without controversy. In the days leading up to her visit, media reports began to circulate regarding a leaked email that contained reference to the destruction of some copies of the WorkSafe BC report into the circumstances surrounding the destruction of the Babine sawmill.
To be clear, the report exists and is in the hands of Crown counsel. It was only a small number of copies that were shredded.
The shredding of documents was, according to the email, done to prevent the ‘inadvertent disclosure’ of documents that might interfere with Crown counsel’s ongoing investigation.
On the morning of Clark’s scheduled arrival in Burns Lake, the NDP made a press release calling into question the Clark government’s motive for holding back the full report.
While at the Babine sawmill site, Clark was questioned by a reporter about the circumstances surrounding the decision to shred the documents, and whether or not the decision was made for political reasons.
Clark was adamant that nothing in the report regarding worker safety was held back, and that her government does not want to be party to any possible interference with Crown investigations through the disclosure of confidential information.
“The whole report should be public, except for the parts that might compromise Crown’s ability to pursue charges, if there are any,” said Clark.
“All of the parts of the report that contain preventative measures that need to be taken to protect workers have been released.”
In Burns Lake, the political gamesmanship did not sit well with Maureen Luggi, wife of Robert Luggi, who was killed in the explosion.
“The family of Robert F. Luggi Jr. has been deeply hurt and traumatized all over again to see what has transpired in the media regarding the BC Safety Authority report [into] the explosion at Babine Forest Products,” said Luggi. “The integrity of this report must be protected as well as the Crown Counsel process. The Luggi family requests that the union [United Steelworkers] and NDP representatives not utilize this report and its findings for their political gain in the upcoming B.C. election.”
Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam was also unhappy with the political manoeuvring surrounding the email dust-up.
“They’re using it as a political football,” said Adam. “They have to take into consideration the 19 people injured and the two that passed away.” For Adam, the families need to be the first people consulted regarding the findings of the report, well before any information is released to the public.
Clark also said that her government would continue, should it be re-elected, to expand consultations surrounding legislation that would facilitate the conversion of select volume-based timber licenses to area-based tenures.
“We’ll continue those consultations after the election,” said Clark. “Our aim – absolutely – remains to bring in legislation that’s going to allow area-based harvesting.”
At press time, election results of the May 14, 2013 election were not known.
Chief Adam remains on partial duties during his sick leave. He expects to return to full-time duties in early June, 2013.
The mill rebuild is on track for completion in 2014.