Campbell River will feature a new federal economic development office, which could help more voices from throughout the region be heard in Ottawa.
The creation of Pacific Economic Development, a B.C.-specific offshoot of Western Economic Development, was announced by the federal government on Aug. 5. As a part of this initiative, eight new offices will be created throughout the province, including a ‘service location’ in Campbell River.
North Island—Powell River MP Rachel Blaney wrote a letter to the Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly in February asking for one of the new offices to be located in the riding. She followed this with a call to constituents to support her request with letters of their own.
“It just feels really good that they listened,” said Blaney.
The new Campbell River service location will help local people share the realities they face in the region back to Ottawa directly, she said.
“What I think is so important in this, in the changing economies of Canada, is that rural and remote communities need to be represented more strongly,” said Blaney. “We need to have people that are actually working in our communities, sending that information back to Ottawa, so that Ottawa isn’t so disconnected.”
The announcement is a good news story for Campbell River and the North Island, said North Island MLA Michele Babchuk.
“It just recognizes that economic development piece — and having that office close by is something that is needed in the north end of Vancouver Island,” said Babchuk. “This is a great first step, and I’m just waiting to see what they get to bring to the table.”
The decision shows recognition of the challenges faced by the region’s three largest economic sectors of forestry, aquaculture and tourism, said Mayor Andy Adams.
“Having a development officer here and close by and working with the City of Campbell River, the Strathcona Regional District and the North Island communities will be critically important as we look to reinvent, recover and rebound,” said Adams.
The City of Campbell River has been holding internal discussions to help Pacific Economic Development identify a potential site for the new office, said Adams. It will be located in proximity to existing government and business offices in and around the city’s downtown core, he added.
Port Hardy mayor Dennis Dugas stated he feels the office will “give us an opportunity to have our voices heard at the federal level. The small, rural, coastal communities on the north end of the island will now have their voices heard.”
Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom, who is a member of the UBCM board and her portfolio is on economic development, said she was pleased to hear about the new office, noting that “At times we have felt the disconnect from Ottawa which is why we welcome having regional WED offices. Vancouver Island, and other areas in the province, will be better served by knowledgeable people who are familiar with the needs of our region.”
Blaney said she will continue to advocate for such a collaborative approach.
“We know that when we look at all levels of government funding, especially provincial and federal, they’re looking for cooperation (and) they’re looking for communities coming together,” she said. “So having an office in our region, doing that work, will be very important.”
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