EDITORIAL: Half a million needs a watchdog

The plan for the money is sound and forward looking, but there's still a need to watch closely how that money is spent

It sounds like a lot of money, $500,000.

For almost all of us, it is. Governments, however, can chew through that chunk of change in a heartbeat.

When the provincial government announced last week it was granting the Regional District of Mount Waddington a half million bucks to “develop a strategic economic development plan to create jobs in the forestry sector,” alarm bells sounded. Yes, it’s a positive development.

First, it’s important to note it’s our money. The forest companies and those who work in that sector send millions in taxes and fees to Victoria every year. So forgive us if we don’t get on bended knee to say “thank-you, oh great and benevolent provincial government.”

We then thought about the jobs lost in the forest industry around here in recent years. The 2015 closure of the mill in Port Alice erased 400 jobs and has really put that beautiful little town under pressure just to survive.

We thought about how $500,000 could be used to somehow create jobs right away, instead of paying consultants (likely from away) to come up with a strategy that may or may not create jobs 10-20 years from now.

But corporate welfare is a bad idea. So is the creation of a wholly-government-funded entity, say a new sawmill, which would compete against private-sector companies. Apparently, the former is OK if you are talking Bombardier and the federal government, but we digress.

After speaking with Port McNeill Mayor Shirley Ackland and getting some information from the regional district, we started to warm up to this whole ‘build-a-strategy’ plan. It’s an attempt at a longer-term solution, a bigger-picture view, which is laudable and responsible. The plan is to build an “academy of excellence in forestry,” a school of sorts that will keep young people who want to work in the industry here and also attract others to the North Island, creating a critical mass and excitement around the availability of trained foresters here that would be attractive to companies who would, in theory, invest even more in the area and create jobs. Still, we wondered if this was an exercise in poorly-done triage — ie. treating the wider problem while ignoring the bleeding that’s in the here and now.

We did note that Western Forest Products is a big part of this $500,000 exercise. Thank goodness for some private-company sanity in this sea of government bureaucracy.

WFP, the largest tenure holder on the North Island, has experience in the field of forestry-worker training. It ran seven-week training programs out of Woss in 2012-14 for entry-level loggers, for example. WFP knows what workers need to have in terms of skills and safety.

WFP will play a big role in the development of this academy and that is good news for all involved, including the taxpayer.

— Editorial by John Harding