Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Thriving during transition

Courtesy of the City of Quesnel:

Editor's Note -- Weekly Quesnel City Council Column written by Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson.  He can be reached via email here

The announcement of the Tolko mill closure was inevitable and long expected, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the impacted workers and their families. We will now work with both Tolko and the Province to ensure that these workers, and the businesses and contractors who will also be impacted, receive every support available to assist them during this transition period.
However, Council has been proactively preparing our community for this economic and social transition since 2015; a transition that was predictable as far back as 2002 when the trajectory of the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) epidemic clearly indicated we would experience an unprecedented and catastrophic die-back of our lodgepole pine forests. The massive wildfires we are now experiencing were also predictable then too, as every jurisdiction that’s experienced major beetle infestations have also experienced the forest fires that follow, and BC had advance warning of the potential extent of those fires with the 2003 “Firestorm.”
The previous provincial government’s decision to address BC’s MPB epidemic with significant increases to the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC) and massive salvage operations has also contributed to the current situation, as it resulted in significant investments in milling capacity for a harvest level that was clearly unsustainable over the mid and long term. The slash piles created by permitting a relaxation of utilization standards and enabling more wood “waste” to be left in cut blocks has now also come back to haunt us as well, as these slash piles are feeding the fires that now ravage the land base year over year.
The fact that this economic and social transition was predictable doesn’t make it any easier for anyone, especially since very little proactive planning was done for this inevitability by the last Provincial government or previous City Councils. The warning signs were all there, but the political leadership of the day, at both levels of government, kept hoping that the worst-case scenarios would not be realized (at least during their tenure in office) and kept labelling those making predictions about an eventual catastrophic fall down in the AAC as naysayers and alarmists.
Well, the alarm bells are ringing: Quesnel has permanently lost two sawmills and one shift as a direct result of the predictable impacts of the MPB epidemic and wildfires; the AAC is coming down precipitously; and our community is living with summers filled with wildfire smoke, the threat of evacuations, and fear of more mill closures.
As a Council, we’ve been proactively working on a transition strategy since 2014. We started with the City’s internal dynamics and developed a long-term financial plan that has enabled us to address an infrastructure deficit and create room to make investments in key amenities that will assist us to attract and retain visitors, residents, and investment. We’ve successfully rebranded the community and we’re now aggressively working on a robust housing strategy, seniors “age-friendly” initiative, community safety initiative, waterfront development plan, and a long-term infrastructure strategy that includes working with the Province on the much-needed North-South Interconnector.
All of our strategies are derived from an integrated economic development plan that will see us diversify our economy at the same time as we work with our forest sector to revitalize and reinvent it to maximize the economic benefits and job potential from a much smaller annual allowable cut.
Without question, this transition period is challenging but it is occurring at a time when the City will see record levels of public sector investments and a provincial government that has proven itself to be a willing partner with local governments. As a Council we also have robust partnerships with the remaining forest companies as we advance our Future of Forestry Think Tank initiative.
In short, we are proactively planning to ensure Quesnel continues to thrive during this challenging time.
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