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Cariboo-Prince George candidates address forestry at Quesnel forum

Five candidates were asked 12 questions about everything from climate change to drug addiction
From left to right: PPC’s Jing Lan Yang, NDP’s Heather Sapergia, Liberal Tracy Calogheros, Green Party’s Mackenzie Kerr and Conservative Todd Doherty. Ronan O’Doherty photo

All five candidates for the federal riding of Cariboo-Prince George were front and centre for a Quesnel and District Chamber of Commerce-hosted forum in the College of New Caledonia’s Quesnel Campus atrium Wednesday night (Oct. 2).

The incumbent, the Conservative party’s Todd Doherty, sat at a table in front of a crowd of approximately 100 residents with Liberal candidate Tracy Calogheros, NDP candidate Heather Sapergia, Green Party candidate Mackenzie Kerr and People’s Party of Canada candidate Jing Lan Yang.

After opening statements from all, a series of 12 questions were posed, with each candidate having an opportunity to answer.

The questions were provided by the audience anonymously through a web-based system and covered everything from the candidates’ thoughts on climate change and pipelines to crime, homelessness and violence against women.

For the most part, all candidates refrained from attacking one another and their respective parties, and stuck to the issues at hand.

A particularly relevant question for Quesnel was: What will your government do to help with job loss in the forest sector, and what will they do to help with growth in new sectors to aid these forest communities?

READ MORE: VIDEO: Logging truck convoy stalls traffic in downtown Vancouver to protest job losses

The Green Party’s Kerr, who is a forestry student at the University of Northern British Columbia, answered first.

“We want to ban the export of raw logs,” she said. “We need to keep our jobs local and stop shipping them out of the country.”

Kerr also suggested that she would push to ban spraying forested areas with the herbicide glyphosate.

“Right now, we’re spraying our whole province with that and it’s killing all of our deciduous trees, which are not keeping these fire and beetle barriers,” she said. “If we stop the spraying of glyphosate, we could have a more sustainable forest industry and we wouldn’t be so affected by this boom and bust when a fire takes out all of our timber supply.”

The Green Party candidate expressed the need to support small-scale forestry operations

“We need to be making sure that our small-scale forestry companies that want to do things like horse logging or selective logging can thrive and they’re not eaten up by the big guys right away.”

Lastly, she suggested that government needs to do its part to help add more value per hectare to the forests.

“Instead of just two-inch boards, maybe milling one-inch boards, keeping jobs local instead of shipping out raw logs, keeping [timber] in our communities and using all of the log … for things like biofuel,” she suggested.

“There’s potential and the technology’s here, but we need to be thinking outside the box and not so profit-driven. We need to be thinking about a sustainable long-term forest industry so that in my career in forestry, I will have a job.”

Doherty followed, saying we have job losses that are taking place right now.

“We do not have a softwood lumber agreement, which is amplifying the fact that the cost of doing business [is high]. Whether it’s the 23-per-cent tariffs that are unfairly being levied against our producers, [or that] it is more and more expensive to actually access the fibre,” he said, adding, “and then we have a provincial stumpage system that we have to find a way to work with our provincial government to fix.”

Doherty referenced many roundtables he has attended while serving as MP.

“We have talked about what our forestry industry is going to look like as we move forward,” he said. “It will still be vibrant, but it’s going to be different than what it has been in the past.”

Doherty added the federal government needs to work hand-in-hand with the Province of B.C. as well as the forestry industry.

“We need to focus on training for those that are losing their jobs so that they can transition into new opportunities, and for those that are close to pension, making sure that they’re not falling short.

“The challenge is we need to have projects approved, so that we can move those lost opportunities, so that they stay right here at home and we’re not losing them.”

The Liberal Party’s Calogheros was next, and she said there is still much hope for the industry in the riding.

“Forestry built this part of the area. It built our economies, and it’s featured very heavily in the museum that I’ve been operating for a long time, and it is a renewable resource.

“I don’t see that it’s going to go the way of the dodo bird. We are going to continue to have forestry as a vital part of this region for the foreseeable future.”

Calogheros said she sat in the midst of the fires in 2018 and watched the forest burn.

“What that drove home for me was the need for not just fire suppression, but better forest management.

“I’ve been participating in the forestry roundtables the province has been putting on … and there are a lot of really cool and creative and innovative ideas going on in our community as they stand right now. “

The Liberal candidate praised the initiatives happening within the riding.

“When you talk to your mayor, Bob Simpson, he talks about the fact that Quesnel has expanded within the carbon cycle, and I think that there area really some innovative ideas coming out of your community right here.”

For those who are out of a job, she had some examples of Liberal programs in place to help.

“To help people in the interim, we have a career insurance benefit,” she said. “It’s up to $15,900 over two years, and it will not be clawed back if you have other earnings, so for someone who is transitioning out of a five-year-long job or more, and they need to move into something new, it will give them an opportunity to not just train or retrain or open their own business, but also know they’re going to be secure economically while they’re doing it.”

NDP candidate Heather Sapergia says her government will try to keep people in their communities.

“For people who’ve lost their jobs in the forestry industry, we don’t want them to move away because that decreases the vibrancy of our communities,” she said.

She added the NDP has some ideas on how to keep people in their communities.

“What we would do is provide them with some short-term relief and then some retraining into a new green economy job. For example, [we would provide] some tuition relief.

“There are some great new clean energy jobs coming up, and these people from the forestry industry have really good skills and we want them using that skillset to transition into a new job and plan on supporting them all the way.”

Sapergia said she would partner with the Province to help people get jobs in the transportation industry.

“By 2040, all of our buses in the province will be going to electric buses, so there are manufacturing jobs in that particular industry, and there should be a maintenance facility in each community, so these highly-skilled mechanics who are now fixing logging equipment might be the ones that are fixing the green bus equipment.”

Lastly, the People’s Party of Canada candidate Jing Lan Yang answered, starting off by talking about the logging truck drivers who made their way down to Vancouver last week.

“I believe that we know all those families and workers are in a crisis,” she said. “It’s not just the workers in the sawmill. It also includes the trucking industry, and it also includes the third-tier [workers].

She said she met all those people when she went door knocking.

“I talked to them and said our party, we will support [forestry] as it is a pillar industry.”

The PPC candidate said leader Maxime Bernier will launch a negotiation for a softwood lumber agreement.

“We are the party who are willing to put supply management on the table,” she said.

“We will negotiate with Trump or anyone in the White House.”

The federal election will take place Oct. 21.

READ MORE: Spotlight on B.C.: Setting the agenda on key election issues

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