North Island candidates talk about future of forestry

Fourth candidate enters the race, B.C. First Party leader John Twigg

Forestry is the foundation of the North Island economy, is sustainable and has a bright future, says the local B.C. Liberal candidate in the May 9 provincial election.

The Gazette asked all four candidates what the economic future looks like for our forestry-dependent North Island communities. We asked them if they believe that dependency will be reduced, stay the same or grow.

“I know forestry is the foundation of the North Island economy, it has put food on the table and roofs over the heads of our families for generations,” said B.C. Liberal candidate Dallas Smith. “It is hard work that one can be proud of, it is sustainable, and it has a bright future.”

NDP candidate and incumbent Claire Trevena also said the industry can grow.

“Unfortunately, it has been badly neglected,” said Trevena. “I know loggers in Woss and elsewhere who say they thought there would be work for generations and are now wondering what their grandkids will harvest.”

Green Party candidate Sue Moen said she believes in healthy, sustainable forests working for everyone.

“We recognize that those directly impacted by land and resource use decisions must be making them,” said Moen. “I am committed to a review and reform of the Forest Management Tenure System that will redistribute control over Crown lands and re-attach local processing to the equation.”

The candidates were also asked to specifically comment about the situation in Port Alice, where the mill closure in 2015 erased 400 jobs and decimated the town’s tax base and population.

“I have worked with the people in Port Alice for the last 12 years: first in getting the specialty cellulose mill reopened and then through the current, callous closure,” said Trevena. “The situation for people there is difficult and I continue to strive for clarity about the future of the mill and to work with people in Port Alice exploring both traditional and non-traditional opportunities to keep this west coast gem alive and allow it to prosper once again.”

Other candidates also spoke about growth in other sectors and the changes in where North Island lumber is sold.

“A diversified economy is one that can adapt to change more easily, and we are seeing incredible growth in tourism and aquaculture in the North Island, this will help our communities deal with the ups and downs of global markets, specifically the U.S. market,” said Smith. “Which is why you see the change in where our lumber is sold: B.C. lumber volumes to China increased to 21 per cent in 2016 from just one per cent in 2005, while exports to the U.S. decreased from 86 per cent in 2005 to 67 per cent in 2016 – this trend of market diversification ensures the long- term health of our forestry-dependent communities.”

“Connectivity is crucial in the new economy,” said Moen. “B.C. Greens are ready to invest in a new internet infrastructure for rural and remote communities. This means that residents will have access to a number of services and opportunities not currently available locally. We are committed to significant investment in lifelong learning, clean technology, innovation and climate action – all of which can provide opportunities to create economic security in places like Port Alice.”

Trevena also spoke about the need for more value-added industry on the North Island.

“The B.C. NDP wants to revitalize the industry by investing in forest health and silviculture for future generations and by assisting in the development of secondary manufacturing,” said Trevena. “Having value-added production would reduce the need to export raw logs.”

Both Trevena and Smith spoke positively about the recent announcement of $500,000 from the Rural Dividend Fund going to fund a Forestry Centre on Excellence on the North Island. And Smith added some words of confidence.

“I know how resilient North Islanders are, from Woss, to Coal Harbour, from Port Alice to the rest of tri-port area to Zeballos and Alert Bay,” said the B.C. Liberal candidate. “Trees grow fast and strong, we have the knowledge, capacity and the determination to work together and find a way forward.”

B.C. First Party leader John Twigg told The Gazette on Monday that he is a candidate in the North Island race.

“I believe one of the best things we can do all around B.C. and including in North Island is to re-establish the regional log markets that were killed by the Campbell Liberals,” said Twigg. “Other moves to improve North Island forestry could include innovative tenures, selective low-impact harvesting and tweaking the tax system in favour of small independents. Regarding Port Alice, its future depends mainly on new measures to support the pulp mill, but without that mill the community could still re-invent itself as a retirement community or as a special health-care provider, or both.”

The provincial election is May 9. Chambers of commerce are hosting all-candidates forums in Port Hardy (Monday, April 24) and Port McNeill (Tuesday, April 25). See more information about these forums in today’s edition of The Gazette and on our website, www.northislandgazette.com.

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