North Island Votes. Campbell River Mirror graphic

North Island candidates reflect on economic pillars

Business group calls forestry, aquaculture and tourism the “three pillars”

The North Island candidates in the provincial election were asked to respond to a report recently released by an ad hoc business task force in Campbell River that says the region’s three economic “pillars” are under threat from indifferent governments and large urban interests.

The “Report of the Campbell River Business Recovery Task Force” arose out of a group of businesspeople wanting to urge local government and the community to plan a response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During its deliberations, however, it decided it needed to change tack because the challenges facing the economy needed to be examined more deeply than just the business recovery from the pandemic.

“The least of these challenges is the apparent lack of awareness by the community at large and its leaders of the important contributions that are made by what we later describe as the ‘pillars’ which underpin the economic success of Campbell River,” the task force’s final report says.

RELATED: Campbell River’s three economic pillars at risk from a lack of awareness of their importance: report

BC Conservative candidate John Twigg said, “There are more things than forestry, aquaculture and tourism as pillars in the North Island economy, e.g. transportation, education and public services among many others (energy, fishing, arts, media etc.), but I do agree that forestry, aquaculture and tourism are the largest industries in the private sector and as such, they too sometimes need to be nurtured and occasionally even protected.”

Twigg considers the suggestion that governments are indifferent to the interests of private-sector industries is “a bit simplistic because not all governments are equally indifferent all of the time.”

As for “large urban interests,” that sounds like a euphemism for the environmental movement, Twigg said, as well as even unions and “activist interventionist political parties” but even those people “still recognize the large importance of resource industries and so seek to help them or at least to not harm them.”

NDP candidate Michele Babchuk said the resource and tourism sectors have supported a thriving economy in North Island for decades and it is essential that these industries have the support and opportunities they need to continue to thrive for the next generations.

She pointed out some initiatives the BC NDP has implemented that supports forestry. She cited the Coast Forest Sector Revitalization Initiative in 2019 which she says will stimulate local processing and ensure fibre is available to domestic mills. The NDP will also dedicate a specific portion of the annual allowable cut towards higher value producers who can demonstrate their ability to create new jobs for workers in B.C.

Babchuk said the NDP is also protecting 353,000 hectares of old-growth forest and is taking a “new and holistic” approach to the forest industry. It “breaks from the divisive practices of the past,” she said.

Under the BC Liberals, meanwhile, coastal communities suffered while wild salmon stocks dramatically declined. Over the past three years, John Horgan and the BC NDP have worked hard to restore and protect this resource, Babchuk said.

As an example of BC NDP approach to reconciling conflicts over aquaculture and wild salmon, Babchuk pointed to the “historic agreement in the Broughton Archipelago” where aquaculture businesses, local governments, and Indigenous leadership were brought together with the province to address long-standing concerns relating to wild salmon and aquaculture to ensure a bright future for these industries.

Moving forward, the BC NDP will work with the federal government to develop new strategies that protect and revitalize B.C.’s salmon populations by building on the successful Broughton process and supporting innovation in fish hatcheries; step up protection of fish habitat through our biodiversity strategy; and ensure B.C. processing of B.C.-caught fish.

Babchuk acknowledged that tourism has been hard hit by the pandemic and that’s why the NDP acted quickly to provide supports for that sector. Under the NDP’s recovery plan, they are providing significant new supports for this sector – from grants to businesses and to investments in tourism communities. They also set up a Tourism Task Force with leaders from the sector to help chart the path forward.

“We will keep working hard to support a resilient tourism sector and to ensure that aquaculture and forestry have a bright future in North Island,” Babchuk said.

Liberal candidate Norm Facey said he is “totally aligned” with the Campbell River business task force’s opinions.

“It is the pillars. We need the forestry and aquaculture industries to be vibrant to maintain the rural communities that we have and to enjoy the way of life that we enjoy,” Facey said.

Facey also agrees “wholeheartedly” with the Campbell River business task force that resource industries are under threat from indifferent governments. He believes the NDP “will throw forestry under the bus, given the opportunity and wouldn’t be too far behind on aquaculture.”

The provincial government has to be supportive of “science-based, responsible forestry and aquaculture. We have to go with professional qualified people doing that work,” he said.

Facey says there is a lot of misinformation out in the public and people don’t see the impact of the first dollar flow of the resource industries that B.C. is based upon.

“It’s hard to understand where we’re going to get the funds that get recycled within our urban centres and provide the services that everyone expects in terms of the life they want to see,” Facey said. “If we don’t take care of the future of the province we won’t have the resources to keep ourselves vibrant at home.”

In terms of specifics, Facey said in the forest industry, the Liberals want to implement a more efficient, effective and responsive market price stumpage system to help keep the industry competitive. The Liberals will also work with industry to modernize forest management practices so B.C.’s forestry is no longer the highest-cost producer in North America. The Liberals will also work with the federal government to resolve the softwood lumber dispute fairly in a way that works for B.C. The Liberals would also increase investments in silviculture to boost tree-planting efforts and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Liberals will also introduce legislation to protect the working forest for increased certainty on the land base while protecting and enhancing environment values.

“That last one’s key. We need to establish a working forest that gives people certainty on what they have to invest both their lives and their dollars in going forward,” Facey said.

He also agreed that tourism has been hard hit and is deserving of government support so that we have the assets to engage when COVID-19 is gone.

Green candidate Alexandra Morton said that it is distressing to hear that tourism is under threat because we learned that through COVID-19-induced job loss that small business is really the powerhouse behind jobs.

Meanwhile, she said that aquaculture is destroying itself. She said she reads the international news extensively and “they’re calling land-based salmon farming the hottest trend in aquaculture.”

Because the industry “refuses” to embrace that and acknowledge the impact they’re having, they’re being driven out of the water and why Broughton First Nations don’t want them. The threat to aquaculture may not just be from outside the region.

“I think aquaculture’s biggest threat is First Nations,” Morton said.

Everybody is ready to help salmon farming to get out of the water. She said it is not a matter of getting rid of aquaculture. Aquaculture has tremendous potential. The processing plants built by the industry like the one in Port Hardy are state of the art and they should diversify.

“Let’s just move this thing onto land,” she said.

There is enormous investment in land-based farms around the world.

“I think these three companies (in B.C.) are funding their research and development into more sustainable aquaculture by farming in a cheap and dirty manner here,” Morton said.

In terms of forestry, Morton acknowledged it’s an industry she doesn’t know a lot about. But in talking to a people she knows that it is a very complex situation.

“But from what I’m hearing, people would like to get as many jobs out of every tree that’s fallen. So that would be reducing sales of raw logs,” she said. “There should be incentives for processing logs for lumber in mills in North Island communities.”

She believes that old-growth forests need to be protected and that logging them has to stop because it will be stopped anyway when the trees are all cut down.

“It’s holding such biodiversity for future generations. I really don’t think we should rob the children, basically, just because we don’t want to upgrade the industry right now, seeing how it’s going to have to happen anyway,” Morton said.

RELATED: Claire Trevena talks 15 years in the public eye as North Island MLA


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