Over the past month, we’ve been working with the new provincial government to secure the resources we need to both recover from this summer’s fire season and to continue to manage our way through the economic transition we were already experiencing as a result of the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic. I’m pleased to report that we are finding willing and eager partners in the new Cabinet and we’re looking forward to continuing our discussions with key Ministers when we meet with them at the Union of BC Municipalities annual convention at the end of September.
As members of our business community pointed out to us, we don’t want a repeat of the so-called recovery assistance the Province provided after the Canfor mill closure or the more recent “community transition pilot” that was initiated by the Cariboo North MLA without consultation with the City or the Cariboo Regional District. In both cases, senior bureaucrats from Victoria flew into Quesnel to offer “help” and then went away without actually delivering any incremental long term programs or resources to our community. We still haven’t seen the final report from the Canfor transition process and nothing concrete came out of the MLA led process. In both cases, the provincial bureaucrats only made us aware of programs that already existed and that we were either already taking advantage of or had been denied access to.
We are now making the case that we need a local, ground-up process; one led by a local recovery team and based on our already existing economic and social development strategies and plans that will be refined to incorporate any new challenges which have emerged as a result of the fire impacts. What we need from the province is the incremental resources to facilitate and coordinate our own recovery and transition efforts, not some team of provincial bureaucrats second-guessing our ability to manage our own destiny or educating us about funding programs we already know about.
Over the coming weeks, leading up to our Minister meetings at UBCM, I will be working with the Cariboo Chilcotin Beetle Action Coalition and the Northern Development Initiative Trust to see what steps can be taken to realign the financial resources they have available to them so that they more directly and more readily support fast-tracking our economic transition and recovery initiatives. These two organizations have significant funds available that can be quickly marshalled to support our efforts. I will also be speaking with senior government officials about the future of the Rural Dividend Fund and the Forest Enhancement Fund – again, two already existing funding programs that simply need to be adapted to meet our emerging needs.
The key message we are giving to the new provincial government is simple: the time to start developing recovery strategies is now and these strategies need to be based on refining economic and social development plans that have already been developed for our City and region; a local recovery team made up of our business associations and sectoral representatives is best positioned to lead this process with incremental financial assistance from the province to support the facilitation and coordination of this team’s efforts; and, already existing funding programs simply need to be adjusted to meet our emergent needs before any new programs and funds are created.
If we can convince the new government to align their offers of support with this approach we’ll be best positioned to create the most robust and effective strategies and initiatives to both recover from this summer’s fire season and to manage our way through the current economic transition.
Mayor Bob Simpson