MLA says government support for forest industry is lacking

Budget also affects natural gas consumers in the region

There’s not much in last week’s provincial budget that will provide much comfort to the forest industry, says Nechako Lakes BC Liberal MLA John Rustad.

Speaking the day after finance minister Carole James released the NDP government’s plan in Feb. 18 to spend $60.1 billion, Rustad’s not even convinced help for the forest industry promised last year has surfaced.

“I’m not sure any of that has been spent yet,” said Rustad about a number of programs announced for forest workers last fall, including $40 million for workers who want to retire early.

That retirement program also hinges on contributions from forest companies and given the state of the industry which as featured layoffs and mill closures, the MLA’s not convinced companies can afford to participate.

Rustad’s also worried about forecasts of fewer trees to be cut as that, combined with stumpage and other charges, will simply add to logging costs.

The Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., which had been providing money to deal with reducing waste and thinning projects to improve tree growth, is being wound up, a further matter of concern for Rustad.

He was at a rally last week in front of the legislature last week of forestry workers worried about their current and future employment prospects, saying the provincial government has to start paying attention to their contributions to the economy.

But Rustad is intrigued by $13 million to be set aside for First Nations bio energy projects, something he said he’ll be tracking as the year goes on.

This budget does project a surplus of $227 million but that’s razor thin should there be a downturn or unexpected events and financial adjustments needed, he added.

“I know the Fort St. James hospital [replacement] is now a line item [in the budget] but I’d be worried if something should happen,” Rustad said.

When it comes to spending on roads and highways in the region, Rustad’s also worried about continuing improvements to Hwy16, noting that in previous NDP governments, road projects were reduced to practically nothing.

And he sees a lack of commitment toward the mining sector, a key industry in the north and rural areas.

“There’s not been one new mine open under the NDP,” said Rustad.

One item tucked away in the form of a tax increase is an adjustment which will raise the carbon tax cost for people who use natural gas, a factor that will affect the region who already pay the highest rates in B.C. for using the fuel, he said.

“That’s a hit for people in this region. We’re at the point where the tax is going to be higher than the cost of the fuel,” Rustad continued.

Consumers will also be hit by a tax on Netflix, something Rustad said runs counter to the government’s stated intention of reducing cellphone costs.

“So now there’s tax on people who use their phones to watch Netflix. That’s a real headscratcher,” he said.

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