MLA Donna Barnett attended the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) this September in Vancouver and had the chance to discuss a variety of issues affecting South Cariboo residents.
“As always, it was very busy meeting with different municipal governments,” said Barnett. She attended meetings alongside the city of Williams Lake and had a chance to converse with local governments from around the province.
Barnett and the mayor of Williams Lake, Walt Cobb and the chief of the Williams Lake Indian Band, Willie Sellars met the convoy of loggers who travelled down to Vancouver on Wednesday, Sept. 25 as part of the Rally to Vancouver protest and jumped in to drive around the block inside one of the logging trucks themselves.
“We were on a corner waiting for them and talking to people from the Lower Mainland,” said Barnett.
Some individuals from the Lower Mainland asked her what was going on and Barnett found herself explaining the context behind the arrival of approximately 200 logging trucks in Vancouver’s busy downtown core.
“We told them and talked about the forest industry. It was interesting to see how much people appreciate the forest industry and recognize the issues and things that are going on. Some people we talked to didn’t understand it and after we talked to them they understood it better and totally felt that the forest industry is more important to British Columbia than they ever realized.”
Having the logging trucks visually enter the city in such a way created a major response, said Barnett.
“It made a huge, huge impact. There were so many people out there thanking them and recognizing them. It was quite an exercise. To me, it was well worthwhile. Those logging truck drivers came on their own, paid their own fuel, and there were lots of families with them in their pick-up trucks. I just sincerely hope that the government wakes up and realizes the need for this industry in British Columbia because what amazes me is that Alberta is working, the other provinces are working.”
Barnett explained that she has talked to many young forestry workers who are travelling to camps in Alberta to find jobs.
“Here in British Columbia we don’t [have that],” she said. “It’s very scary and what’s also very annoying is the fact that they’re taking funds from the Rural Dividend which we put there when I was minister to help these communities in 2016 start to be ready for when the annual allowable cut came down. Now they’ve taken that away, they say they’ll put it back next year, well next year is too late.”
Barnett described the cancellation of the Rural Dividend program as a loss of economics for rural communities.
“What have they done with all the money?” she asked. “We left 2.7 billion dollars on the table two years ago when we left, as surplus, and now they haven’t got any money for rural British Columbia when they need it?”
An emergency resolution was put on the floor and passed unanimously on the subject during UBCM this year, seeking to have the Rural Dividend reinstated.
For herself, Barnett wants to see the Rural Dividend fund put back where it belongs so that applications can get moving.
Mental health and drug addiction was another focus of the annual conference for Barnett and she noted that MLA Todd Stone has called upon the government to do something about vaping, too.
“Before people get sick in British Columbia, we’ve got to stop this,” she said, adding that there need to be better programs in place in the province for those struggling with mental illness and/or addiction.