British Columbia Premier, Christy Clark was in Quesnel this week for the annual Billy Barker Days, but that’s not the first time in the last little while she’s paid a visit to the small Cariboo Regional District City.
Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson has addressed some concerns for his city. Quesnel is dependent on forestry and now it’s one of the first mountain pine beetle communities impacted by a reduction in the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC). “We know going forward that they’re going to be forced to harvest a different kind of wood quality, younger stems, and different species,” said Simpson. “I believe that the province needs to be a partner in helping our current industry re-invent itself into other forms of manufacturing.”
On the other hand, the pine beetle has devastated British Columbia’s timber supply. The Premier says she plans to work cooperatively with Quesnel. “There are a lot of people out there, we seem them in the legislature everyday who are saying we shouldn’t cut down another tree, we shouldn’t dig up another piece of metallurgical coal,” Clark said. “I say, if you want to have jobs in British Columbia, you need to make sure the fibre is there to support the forestry jobs.”
Although, that’s not the only thing making Simpson’s head turn. Two rural schools in the area were slated to close before the province bailed them out in June. Simpson feels there’s not enough future funding. “We have no capital funding into our schools and to get this willy-nilly funding that may or may not be there on an annual basis doesn’t allow us to actually plan, capitalize, and re-invest into our schools to give us stability to our educational system.”
Still, Clark says the province needed to intervene. “Rural communities are going to start growing again, they won’t have that chance to grow if we close their schools,” she said. “We really felt like closing Kersley and Parkland were the wrong decisions so we made that money available for those schools to stay open and thankfully the school board relented and decided that they would use the money.”
Meantime Quesnel has applied to receive funding from the Rural Dividend Fund. A $75 million fund set up to assist communities under 25 thousand people, over the next three years. (A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Quesnel would receive $75 million dollars from the Rural Dividend Fund over the next three years.) Meanwhile, the Premier continues to play the ‘jobs’ card. “We are bringing that money back and our priority is to spend it on projects that are going to create jobs and make communities really sustainable,” she said. “Whether or not that’s the provincial or the city government that’s doing it, I frankly don’t think that citizens care, they just want to know that jobs are going to be there for them.”
Whether more jobs will come to Quesnel in the future is still to be determined. For now, Clark has less than a year to focus on her election campaign in May 2017.