As the country heads into its 43rd federal election, the solutions offered by the Liberal government for communities facing the downturn in forestry aren’t enough, said regional district leader Gerry Thiessen.
The chair of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako spoke to Lakes District News about Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi’s response to a letter from 22 regional mayors who sought help amid the difficulties of declining forest industries across northwest British Columbia.
“The solutions from the minister would not meet the challenges that many of our communities are facing across the northern B.C. resource sector,” Thiessen said on Oct. 9.
“Our towns require help in giving citizens the opportunity to stay and strengthen their hometowns.”
Sohi, in his response to the mayors’ letters said the federal government “is working closely with impacted mills and workers to ensure they have access to the key federal services and supports. These include immediate income measures and work sharing options, as well as longer term transition training such as employment counselling, skills assessments, job search assistance, and skills training.”
“The government’s top priority remains getting those who have been laid off back to work, and doing so by supporting a strong and healthy forest sector in Canada,” the minister added.
Other measures include a $251 million investment in forest sector innovation schemes such as the Forest Innovation Program, which supports the development of higher value forest products; the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program that supports the industrial commercialization and adoption of innovative technologies and processes; the Expanding Market Opportunities Program that increases and diversifies market opportunities for Canada’s forest products industry; and the Indigenous Forestry Initiative that helps with forest-based economic development for First Nations communities across Canada.
But as Thiessen explained, the solutions are too vague.
“We each have our own unique challenges, and those programs just don’t seem to meet the needs of where we’re at. Like Fort St. James and Mackenzie are probably facing the biggest challenges in our immediate area. I just don’t see how those communities’ unique circumstances are going to be met by a program. There has to be some individual ability for input that will allow communities to say ‘we need this.’”
Forestry took up a fair amount of discussion at the All Candidates Forum in Burns Lake on Sept. 26, where six candidates for Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding presented their platforms and held debates.
It was also a big topic at the All Candidates Forum on Oct. 2 in Quesnel, where the Tolko mill permanently closed in August.