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North Island Rising: Small towns crying

“Many of the small resource communities of the North Island are on the edge of crisis”

There is a crisis in small town BC and while not unexpected in rural communities built and sustained solely by the resource sector it isn’t any less painful or real for those who are now experiencing it.

It is a crisis, which outside of the Lower Mainland’s golden triangle, has long simmered just beneath the surface and has a well documented list of issues that have been studied for as many years as they have been ignored.

That list includes, neglect, mismanagement, wistful thinking, a longing for a return to the good old days, opportunism and changing markets as well as consumer attitudes.

BC’s resource sector is in trouble and so too are the many towns that have depended upon it for their survival. It is a crisis that will not result in total collapse but is so deep and so profound that it will reshape the industry, the people and the province for decades to come.

We are going through changes in forestry and mining in ways that many predict Alberta’s oil sector will face in the not too distant future. The only difference is, ours is happening now and like Alberta, we don’t seem to have a plan in place to soften the blow or redirect and reposition our economy.

Like our neighbour to the east, we have been in denial for years and given only token action, little attention and no long-term investment towards creating a future that is less reliant on the natural resources of our province.

In the tokenism department, I know of no community in BC that hasn’t, at some point in time, hired consultants and spent $25,000 to $30,000 to have an economic development plan prepared that simply acknowledges the obvious need to diversify their economy.

The need is identified, solutions are not and once written and just after the local chamber of commerce and town council unanimously declare their support and mumble something about the tech sector salvation; local labour leaders warn everyone not to rely on tourism to replace their high paying jobs.

In less than a month, and despite the sincere promises to revisit the study the next time the Official Community Plan comes up for review, the report is put on the shelf and forever forgotten.

The same process exists but on a much larger scale when senior governments are involved. Everyone is great at studying the problem but no one is getting their hands dirty with the needed and difficult task of implementing real solutions.

And the problem is made worse when those same governments rely on the focused and narrowed approach of special interest groups to provide a broad picture solution.

Can we rely on unions to provide solutions that don’t involve union labour or business groups to have solutions that involve unionised labour? Can we expect long term 20 year planning and solutions from politicians that need to be re-elected every 4 years?

This is what we’ve tried, this is why we have failed and this is why many of the small resource communities of the North Island are on the edge of crisis.

Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at bill@northislandrising.com

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