Logging trucks gather from around the B.C. Interior to head to downtown Vancouver, Sept. 27, 2019. (B.C. Logging Convoy/Facebook)

B.C. VIEWS: Rural B.C. takes another hit from the NDP

Province showing clear signs it’s heading for deficits

The annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention is usually a non-event for cosmopolitan Vancouver. A little more downtown congestion added to the cruise ship traffic, an extra bump in already high hotel prices, more demand for taxis.

It’s usually a yawner for the city media too, lots of rural problems and dry financial discussions. That changed briefly last week, as a convoy of hundreds of logging trucks descended on the downtown convention centre, from as far north as Prince George and down through the Cariboo and Okanagan-Similkameen. They honked and rolled for hours, getting brief attention from TV cameras.

The industry doesn’t seem very organized, one urban observer said. I replied that “the industry” in this case is out-of-work independent contractors spending hundreds of dollars they need for their next truck payment on fuel to stage the demonstration. With Premier John Horgan and his entire cabinet in town, they went for it.

The forest industry crisis was the talk of the convention, as small-town mayors and councillors arrived knowing the province had suspended a $25 million “rural dividend” grant program to fund relief for Interior communities that have lost their mills. The money is to bridge older workers to retirement and retrain others, as well as give grants to Quesnel, Chasm, Vavenby and Fort St. James to offer assistance.

Government’s response to a wave of sawmill and logging layoffs has been slow and clumsy, capped by Horgan’s comments to reporters after his convention-closing speech. He compared community leaders wanting the rural fund reinstated to kids who “want everything right now.”

RELATED: Rural dividend program only ‘curtailed,’ Horgan says

RELATED: Log truck convoy stalls traffic in downtown Vancouver

The $25 million was for small grants to diversify rural economies, many in towns that lost their forest employment a while ago. No example is more poignant than Port McNeill and its neighbouring villages. You don’t have to explain to Winter Harbour and other North Island communities what it’s like to lose a once-vibrant economy.

Port McNeill Mayor Gaby Wickstrom says her town’s grant application was a mere $10,000 to spruce up the downtown. She also serves on the board of Mount Waddington Regional District, which had one of the hundreds of “rural dividend” applications awaiting approval. Theirs was around $200,000 for a non-profit society to run its “fundamentals of forestry” project.

That would pay for a staffer to recruit people to move to the North Island. “Not just workers, bringing people to our region, the quality of life, why to live here, why to invest here, that kind of thing,” Wickstrom told me. “Port Alice had an application in as well, for some signage. They’re trying to reinvent themselves after the mill closure.”

The long-dormant pulp mill there was officially shuttered in February, its small maintenance crew laid off.

The NDP government has looked desperate on the forest crisis, suspending its caribou protection plan, appointing an apologist MLA to go on yet another listening tour, and then this horribly short-sighted cancellation of a modest diversification program.

And while $25 million provides a hand up for some little towns, it’s a drop in the bucket for Finance Minister Carole James. She just moved $300 million from contingency funds, basically an unused wildfire budget that came in handy to keep the province out of red ink for this year.

There’s still more than $400 million in contingency this year, but Horgan confirmed that all ministries are looking for cuts. Their big inherited surplus has been spent.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATED: Hwy 93 reopens after rockslide blocks traffic in Fairmont Hot Springs

Highway at Fairmont between Dutch Creek and Westside Road blocked until geotechnical team can assess

Rob Morrison sworn in as Kootenay-Columbia MP

Parliament set to reconvene on Thursday with election of House Speaker, Throne Speech

Break-and-enter at Family Pantry in Canal Flats

Weekly RCMP report, November 24-December 1

Role-playing exercise builds empathy and reconciliation

Blanket Exercise Tuesday, December 10th at Akisq’nuk; all welcome but please register

Fashion Fridays: Ethical and sustainable gifts for the season

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

B.C. Transit scores 28 used fareboxes on eBay, saves $300,000

‘Someone joked maybe we can buy used fareboxes on eBay,’ CEO says

Many of Canada’s working poor can’t afford lawyers, don’t qualify for legal aid

One lawyer says many people earn too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to really live on

Economy lost 71,200 jobs in November, unemployment rate climbs to 5.9%

Jobless rate is at its highest since August 2018, when it hit 6%

VIDEO: John Lennon’s iconic Rolls Royce rolls into Vancouver Island college for checkup

Royal BC Museum, Camosun College and Coachwerks Restorations come together to care for car

Petition calls for appeal of ex-Burns Lake mayor’s sentence for sex assault

Prosecution service says Luke Strimbold’s case is under review

Northwest B.C. wildlife shelter rescues particularly tiny bear cub

Shelter co-founder says the cub weighs less than a third of what it should at this time of year

BC firefighters to help battle Australian bushfires

Canada sent 22 people, including 7 from B.C.

B.C. NDP touts the end of MSP premiums

Horgan, James held news conference to reiterate that people will get their last bill this month

Most Read