Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart began lobbying for revitalization of the Fraser Canyon highway in early 2019, and she says that a very successful meeting about it took place last May.
“There were more than 40 people in the room, and the important thing was that it wasn’t just another meeting: the people were there who need to be there. The challenge is that there are so many groups involved in the Fraser Canyon. We need to get some barriers removed to get projects done in the Fraser Canyon.”
Tegart suggests starting with something smaller that some action could actually be taken on. “If it’s too big, it’s hard to see if you’ve made a difference. We would work specifically on the Yale–Lytton corridor, because we want to focus on that section.”
She says that, in partnership with the Lytton Chamber of Commerce, an application was made to the Rural Dividend grant program for funding to put together a master plan, but that program was put on hold in Sept. 2019.
“That project won’t be considered for funding, which is a disappointment, but we’re not going to give up. My office met with Highways, and they’ve agreed to do a review of pullouts, signage, washrooms—anything they’re responsible for—in spring 2020.”
Tegart says she has been really impressed by the cooperation she’s had from Highways and their commitment to work with stakeholders. “They’ll review what they need to look at, and I know that if one or two projects get going momentum will start. Highways does a number of small projects in each region, and we want them to be aware of what our expectations are so they can assist.
“We don’t want to invite the world up the Fraser Canyon until we have a strong sense of what the assets are, and where we can direct people as they enjoy that incredible drive through the Canyon.”
Speaking of the Rural Dividend fund, Tegart says it was “very disappointing” to hear that it had been put on hold, and its $25 million in funds for 2019 moved into a larger fund to help communities impacted by closures and curtailments in the forestry industry.
“It’s disappointing when you consider what [the Rural Dividend fund] was actually put together for: to help communities diversify, because we knew there would be a slowdown in forestry, and wanted to give communities an opportunity to diversify their economies and find other employment for people in the forestry industry. For the government to suspend it is incredible.”
The Province has said that the suspension of the fund is only temporary, and Tegart says she would like to know their definition of “temporary”. She adds that a lot of discussion had gone on in previous years about the effects of the mountain pine beetle and the downturn in forestry that would be coming. “We wanted to give communities time to plan.”
She notes that anyone who worked in forestry knew that the high level of activity to get the mountain pine beetle wood out of the forests as quickly as possible would eventually end.
“As I talked to people in forestry they said not only would we see a transition out of the pine beetle wood, we’d see the impact of the fires. We also have the highest cost of production in North America, and that’s what’s shutting down the industry.”
While there have been ebbs and flows in forestry in the past, industry insiders say they have never seen it this bad. “We held round tables about forestry throughout the riding, and a number of MLAs came to talk about possible solutions. To have the Horgan government ignore that this is going on is appalling.
“It’s like we don’t count. I’m hearing from people in the community who are unemployed, and who don’t know who qualifies [for assistance] or how to apply. I think, ‘If I’m an unemployed forestry worker, what does this mean to me?’ It sounds good in an announcement, but what does it mean? We’re a pretty resilient people, but this is a government that says forestry isn’t important.”
Tegart notes the impact that the forestry situation is having on communities businesses .
“When people are unemployed they don’t go out for dinner, or to the hairdresser: anything that people can cut from their budget, because they’re so aware of every cent they have to spend. It impacts every part of the community.”
She acknowledges that forestry is a complex subject, but adds that when stumpage is so expensive that companies are choosing not to put logs on scales, that will have an impact on the provincial coffers.
“There’s not a lot of discussion about that. And what does that do? We know that the provincial government surplus is down to a fine wire, but we haven’t had a discussion about what impact the forestry downturn will have on the provincial budget. When we get back in the House those kinds of hard questions will be asked. In the meantime, we’re scrambling to figure out how to keep people in our communities.”
Next week: Steelhead, seniors, health care, and more.