Various political bodies in the South Cariboo are reaching for solutions and support after the closures and curtailments of several local mills.
MLA Donna Barnett, along with Liberal forestry critic and Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad and Thompson-Nicola MLA Jackie Taggart met with chambers, councils, private sectors, First Nations, and logging contractors between 100 Mile House and Williams Lake. They also toured the West Fraser facility in 100 Mile House in late June.
The purpose of the meeting, said Barnett, was to “find out exactly where things are at and how we could help, looking for suggestions and recommendations”. She also added that the group was compiling the information and recommendations they received and putting together a report.
“The immediate thing is to engage the federal government, which the provincial government has to do to look at multi-level support for communities and impacted workers including employment assistance for those workers who don’t currently qualify,” Barnett said when asked about solutions. “But in order for the federal government to come to the table for anything, the province has to initiate it but we also need to reengage the U.S. and federal governments to get the softwood lumber deal done and basically reduce stumpage fees and the Carbon Tax on the forest sector, including contractors and others dependant on the sector until market conditions stabilize.”
Barnett also spoke about an immediate fund for impacted communities, so they can access and hire contractors for wildfire mitigation projects.
Another initiative she brought forward, was the special circumstance criteria (Community Transition Services) of the Rural Dividend Fund. According to a press release from the District of 100 Mile House council on June 18, they have already initiated communications with the Community Transition Support team.
“We appreciate the willingness of all these agencies and passionate individuals coming together to help develop support for the community and impacted workers. Right now, we are in a brainstorming stage, taking stock of good ideas and beginning to determine the best ways to move ideas to action quickly. We know lots of these supports will be valuable to those workers of Chasm and [the] 100 Mile House sawmill also. We are open to collaboration with the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) and our neighbours to the south around these challenging times. We know that we are stronger together, and together we are going to come up with community-focused actions to help meet these ends,” said Mayor Mitch Campsall.
Clinton Mayor Susan Swan also facilitated a town hall meeting in her community on June 25, where a panel made up of representatives from West Fraser, the Ministry of Forestry and United Steelworkers answered questions and provided information on the closure and why it happened. A paramedic was also there to address mental health concerns.
Swan said the meeting went pretty well, with more than 50 people in attendance.
She also said workers are being given the opportunity to move to other West Fraser facilities and some workers have been offered early retirement packages if they qualified.
Barnett has said the same about the facility in 100 Mile House and also said Norbord has been offering its workers the opportunity to move elsewhere.
One concern, Swan said the public raised at the meeting was the status of Clinton’s lone school, David Stoddart School.
There is already less than 100 students at the Kindergarten to Grade 12 school. Parents are concerned, Swan affirmed, that the closure of the Chasm Mill may cause parents to move their kids to schools in Cache Creek or Ashcroft. However, Swan said School District 74 has not said anything yet to cause any concern.
“It’s not something we haven’t faced before,” said Swan in regards to the Chasm Mill situation.
Barnett echoed the same sentiment.
“We went through this in the 80s, not as bad as this, but in the 80s I was here selling real estate at the time and they closed the mine at Hendrix Lake, they closed the plywood in 100 Mile House, the cedar mill in 100 Mile, the mill at the end of Lac la Hache, and the world economy was in a disaster…They were tough times but we all got through it. Yes, there was a lot of devastation, a lot of people displaced. Fortunately, we had Ainsworth along and they had this vision.
Who knows what’s on the horizon? Who knows what will happen? But we are looking forward to seeing what kind of initiatives will come to the table to sector funding.”