Stikine MLA Nathan Cullen says the new B.C. Budget makes good on a promise to support forestry workers, who may be impacted by old-growth logging deferrals.
Concern over the government’s plan to preserve up to 2.6 million hectares of “ancient, rare and priority large stands of old growth forests,” prompted rallies in Smithers in November.
At that time Cullen said the NDP government would have the backs of forestry sector workers, who could be potentially be displaced.
The budget, announced Feb. 22, provides $185 million over the next three years to help workers with short-term employment, skills training or a bridge to retirement and to help companies diversify to create new jobs.
Details on the actual programs are absent from the fiscal plan because, Cullen said, the old-growth deferral program is still in the consultation phase.
“I think there was a misunderstanding of the original maps that were proposed, and that it was a done deal, and that this was what was going to start happening tomorrow,” he explained. “In fact, there’s stages of ground-truthing the maps, walking the forest to validate and confirm what’s there and using local knowledge to do it, not somebody sitting with a computer in Victoria. And there’s obviously the conversations, in our case with the Witsuwit’en, who are pretty involved in forestry in different ways.”
He added it is understandable people are concerned, but said once the consultation phase is complete and actual deferrals made, the government will develop programs to meet the specific needs of communities.
“As the weeks and months go ahead, more of the details of the specific program spending come out and estimates and other means, which then gives people a sense of where the supports are,” he said. “Also, because not a lot of deferrals have happened yet… setting up a program for something that hasn’t taken place, you might set up the wrong program or not getting the balance right, what it is that workers and communities need.”
The Town of Smithers is also taking a wait-and-see approach. At its Feb. 22 regular meeting, Smithers council decided to defer a request from the Village of Telkwa to provide a letter of support for the forest industry similar to one Telkwa council has sent to Premier John Horgan.
Telkwa’s letter urges the province to restart the process altogether.
“Village of Telkwa council support the forest industry’s request for a reset on the process that the provincial government announced in November 2021 regarding old growth deferrals and urge the provincial government to honour the industry’s request to have an old-growth strategy put in place to ensure that all data utilized in the decision-making process is accurate and up-to-date and that it includes provisions to ensure that an opportunity has been afforded to all stakeholders to provide input on this extremely important matter.”
Smithers mayor Gladys Atrill said Smithers council is also concerned about the potential impact of old-growth deferrals, but does not have enough information to write a letter. Council instructed staff to push the issue to a Committee of the Whole meeting where they can hear from local experts.
“We’re interested in the long-term viability of the forest sector, but to just be asked to say you should put aside the old-growth deferrals, that’s quite a spectrum,” Atrill said. “So, there’s probably something in there, where we will land, where we’re willing to send a letter expressing an opinion to the province, but we’re going to just have a better conversation first.”
Following the budget announcement, Horgan shuffled Cullen out of the role of Minister of State for Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
He is now the Minister of Municipal Affairs, a position he is excited about.
“It’s a good fit for me, stuff I care about, and has a really big impact on people’s lives, so that’s great,” he said.
Since his swearing-in on Feb. 25, Cullen said he has been touching base with mayors and regional district chairs to start getting a handle on what people’s priorities are.