B.C. Premier John Horgan is visiting eight northern British Columbia communities to hear from community leaders how the province can build on its support for communities that have been affected by the downturn in the forestry sector, and he stopped in Quesnel Monday, Jan. 20.
Horgan highlighted Quesnel as being a community that has worked hard to meet the challenges that are associated with a declining forestry industry.
“Quesnel is a hub of innovation when it comes to forestry,” he said, following a tour of the new Forestry Innovation Centre at City Hall. “Of course [there are] significant challenges in the transition from the forestry of the past to the forestry of the future. [Quesnel Mayor Bob] Simpson and I have known each other for a long time; he works co-operatively with me on the challenges we see going forward. We had indigenous leaders here, we had other representatives of the from the regional district here, to talk not just about forestry but about how we can continue to grow the interior of British Columbia. It is the hub, it is the centre, and it was exciting to be here today.”
When asked what message he had for the residents of Quesnel who have been negatively impacted by the decline of the forestry industry in the region, Horgan said:
“That we are working together. Indigenous communities, Mayor Simpson and council, workers, the industries that have been here, whether it be West Fraser, the larger employer or the other forestry companies here, we are all working together to find a way forward, to add more value to our forest products rather than more volume. That’s the way we are going to have a vibrant industry going forward. We need to work on fire interface — we had a lucky year last year; there is no guarantee that next year is going to be any better than 2017 and 2018, so we need to prepare for that, and Quesnel has been a leader in that regard. That’s why I was so excited to talk to the innovation people here about how they’re managing the forest to protect communities and how they’re managing the forests to protect jobs going forward.”
The premier said his meeting with Simpson and community leaders on Monday was not just to talk about issues related to the forestry industry.
“It was focusing on a whole range of issues — how do we diversify the economy, how do we work together to diversify the economy here in Quesnel and region, and that involves working with indigenous peoples, creating tourism opportunities,” he said. “I mean, this [Quesnel] was at the heart of the gold rush, this was the gateway to Barkerville. So as a provincial asset, Barkerville [is somewhere] we want to see more people coming through. Mayor Simpson and council want to see more people coming through Quesnel to get there. Changing the landscape of downtown Quesnel, using the waterfronts of the Quesnel and the Fraser [rivers] more effectively, these are things we can work on co-operatively. Mayor Simpson and council have a plan; the challenge is how do I go back to the minister of finance to find the resources to change the transportation logistics in and out of town so that they can take advantage of these natural assets, these two spectacular rivers that come together at this point.”
When asked about portions of the West Fraser Road which have been closed due to flood damage since April of 2018, causing a negative economic effect on Quesnel as well as a reduced quality of life for those who have been affected by the closure, Horgan was unable to offer any information regarding an update on timeline for completion of the road construction. The premier says the issue is one that he is aware of and that many communities across the province are facing.
“This is a challenge not just for that community, but for communities right across British Columbia,” he said. “As resource roads are no longer being used for resource development, those people that are living on those roads find themselves without contractors to make sure they can access their properties. This is a challenge not just here in the Quesnel area, but right across British Columbia, and [Transportation Minister Claire] Trevena is working hard on that.”
While in Quesnel, Horgan also addressed the rise in civil disobedience surrounding the LNG pipeline project in northern B.C.
“We continue to work and to try to open up channels of communication,” he said. “That’s always the best way forward.”