Members of the rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC) held an open meeting last week at the Muriel Mould Learning Centre in Burns Lake. (L-R): RPEC supporter Albert Gerow and RPEC members Rick Pooley

Members of the rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC) held an open meeting last week at the Muriel Mould Learning Centre in Burns Lake. (L-R): RPEC supporter Albert Gerow and RPEC members Rick Pooley

Community urged to press council

RPEC member says he’s disappointed with council’s lack of action 

The rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC), a group that’s been working to establish a new college campus in Burns Lake, is urging community members to press the local government for change.

“I think that if you can get in touch with local government representatives, or the provincial MLA, or write letters to the Ministry of Advanced Education, hopefully someone will see the light and move this plan forward very quickly,” said RPEC member Bernice Magee during an open meeting last week.

“Whatever you can do in the form of advocating for our community it will be very positive,” she continued. “We certainly do not want to see the worst case scenario, where we have no post-secondary education in the Lakes District.”

The local group of volunteers has been working to establish a campus of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) in Burns Lake. If the plan is successful, the new campus would replace the Lakes District campus of the College of New Caledonia (CNC).

Rick Pooley, who’s also an RPEC member, said he’s been disappointed with the lack of action by the new village council.

“I’m really disappointed in what seems to be the inability of local political groups to get invested in this problem and a solution,” said Pooley during the meeting. “We’ve spoken to council but somehow what we see to be a serious issue hasn’t connected in that way with them.”

“There was a point in time where village council was very supportive, but in recent times that seems to have waned and I think it’s been a problem,” he continued. “Although only a small percentage of our community is involved with the college, it affects everybody when it’s not doing well.”

According to the RPEC members present in the meeting, their original plan was to have the new college established in Burns Lake by September 2017. However, they said their original plan might have been too optimist. In addition, they said that with the provincial election coming up in May, a change of government could potentially slow the process down.

“There’s an election coming up and everybody knows that after the election we might have a whole different landscape, we might be starting over with an entirely new government or an entirely new minister,” said RPEC member Scott Zayac.

“Hopefully we won’t have to start over,” added Magee.

Does RPEC need to improve consultations?

In October 2016, seven letters – from the Village of Burns Lake and the six local First Nations groups – were sent to the Ministry of Advanced Education requesting that a new college campus be established in Burns Lake.

Since then, the chiefs of Wet’suwet’en First Nation and the Burns Lake Band have both rescinded their support for the proposed campus of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT).

During an open meeting held by the rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC) in Burns Lake last week, a participant questioned RPEC’s consultation process.

“You’ve done excellent work and it seems that there has been very good outreach, but there’s a section of the community that doesn’t have all this information,” said a participant. “When the community is split, it just doesn’t go anywhere.”

“I would like to know if you have any plans of reaching out to a larger group of people because this meeting is a small meeting and the time has come to present that [information] to the general community so we can truly all be informed,” added the participant.

Although RPEC has been holding information sessions with key community groups, educators and government, there hasn’t been a community-wide consultation. Approximately 60 people were invited via email to the open meeting held last week at the Muriel Mould Learning Centre. Less than 10 community members attended the meeting, which was not advertised anywhere else.

“We wanted to target the people who had expressed an interest,” explained RPEC member Bernice Magee. “Overall in the community it’s really difficult to find who’s interested.”

“I’d rather have information sessions rather than a town hall meeting because you end up either not being able to give enough information or there’s somebody else who’s yelling from the other side of the room coming out with inappropriate information; so this is the route that we have taken,” continued Magee.

“What we’re really trying to avoid is having a major public meeting that turns into a yelling match that doesn’t solve anything,” added RPEC member Scott Zayac.

NVIT working to deliver programs in Burns Lake

The Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) has been working to deliver programs in Burns Lake even before a proposed campus is established in town.

“NVIT is currently working with partners in the community and there are plans to have boots on the ground shortly,” said Scott Zayac, member of the rural post-secondary education committee (RPEC), a group that’s been trying to establish a rural campus of NVIT in Burns Lake.

Lake Babine Nation has already been negotiating with NVIT to bring some programming to their members.

Lakes District News asked NVIT about their current plans and partnerships, but the college did not respond by press time.

Babine Forest Products interested in NVIT

During an open meeting to discuss the future of post-secondary education in Burns Lake last week, an industry representative expressed an interest in working with the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology (NVIT) to deliver programs in Burns Lake.

Ruben Gaytan, human resources manager at Babine and Decker Lake Forest Products, said the Hampton Affiliates mills have a “vast interest” in developing a partnership with NVIT.

“One of the major things that are happening is that the demographics in our mills – both Decker and Babine – are going to retire soon,” said Gaytan. “We can easily lose 10 to 12 people right now, they can retire at any time, and they are highly skilled people, so we need the young people to come in so that they can transfer that knowledge.”

“The baton is ready to be handed over, but there’s nobody there to hand it to,” he continued.

“So obviously we’re looking for educated people to come in because it’s highly innovative right now [in the mills]; it’s not a manual thing anymore,” he added. “We need more than just a high-school degree and we’re willing to invest and pay to further their education to fit our positions.”