Premier John Horgan speaks to reporters after the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Whistler, Sept. 14, 2018. (UBCM)

City of Quesnel advances several agendas with provincial ministers at UBCM

Solicitor General, Attorney General commit to reviewing Quesnel’s RCMP, court resources, says mayor

Mayor Bob Simpson and Quesnel City Council members are returning this weekend from the Union of British Columbia Municipalities convention, held in Whistler last week, after what Mayor Simpson characterizes as “good and productive minister meetings.”

Simpson says representatives from the City had mere 15-minute meetings with each minister, to put forth issues affecting the community, and he feels he had good feedback, with many committed to following up on specific asks.

Solicitor General and Attorney General

Representatives from Quesnel sat down with B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and Attorney General David Eby to talk about Quesnel’s crime rate and current understaffed RCMP unit.

READ MORE: Council calls for more police resources in Quesnel

The City of Quesnel provides funding for 21 officers while the province funds nine, including one dedicated to First Nations affairs.

Simpson says they City asked the Solicitor General for an expedited review of Quesnel’s policing staffing, wanting better equity with the province and ensuring that Quesnel does have its full complement of 21 staff. Simpson said in a June 2018 interview with the Observer that the local RCMP department at times operates with as few as 16 officers for the city faction.

“They have committed to having staff follow up with us and to work with the RCMP to look at that situation and to expedite the review of that. That’s what we were after – not putting it on the back burner, but getting it on the front burner,” Simpson says.

In a meeting with Eby, the Attorney General committed to looking at Quesnel’s court resources – both crown counsel and judges – to see whether or not the department is prosecuting the right things, says Simpson.

“We pointed out that right now, whether it’s a resource issue or an ideological issue, we don’t prosecute people for breach of probation and for failure to show. So that means some of our prolific offenders, when they come before a judge, we don’t have the whole track record of what bad actors these guys are – how many times they’ve failed to appear and breached probation – so they get lighter sentences than they otherwise should if that track record came with them,” he explains.

Simpson says the meeting went well and the Attorney General’s office has also committed to reviewing Quesnel’s resources and practices.

“David Eby, the minister, indicated he is meeting with the chief justice, and they will take a look at our situation,” says Simpson.

Simpson says he feels Quesnel has been heard by both the Solicitor General’s and Attorney General’s office.

“They know we are building tools – a maintenance bylaw, we’re adding our own bylaw resources – we are doing what we need to do as an active partner … [they know] that they have to pick up the slack on their side, so we will be following up in the next few weeks and with their federal counterparts.”

Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure

Quesnel took two main topics to the Minister of Transportation: advancing the North-South Interconnector, and plans for West Fraser Road.

Simpson says the Ministry seems to be on board to expedite the Interconnector project.

“We came away from the meeting feeling very positive. There are federal dollars coming forward specifically targeted for rural infrastructure, and the province really wants to move to the business case [for the Interconnector] to start capturing those dollars,” he says.

Regarding West Fraser Road, the Ministry is hosting a public information session in Buckridge community Sept. 20, and government representatives have committed to following up with the city after that meeting.

Simpson wants the Ministry to outline the work they are doing as clearly as possible, so the affected communities understand what needs to be done to move the project forward.

“There are a lot of people who think you can go get a bulldozer and push a road through; it’s way more complicated than that. There’s a whole section of the road on the city side of the bridge that is completely gone. That river has a new path and there’s nothing we can do as humans that can make it behave.

“It’s unfair to expect that there will be a full new road and bridge in 2019; it’s not practical. We’ve said to the minister, someone needs to sit the community down and go lock step through and explain all the steps – where they are at, and the commitment to get it fixed. But there is going to be a time process in there,” says Simpson.

Simpson also wants a commitment from the Ministry about allocating the appropriate resources to make sure the detour road is maintained and safe.

Simpson says he will attend the Buckridge community meeting next week.

READ MORE: West Fraser Road closed until at least 2020, says Ministry of Transportation

Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development

Simpson says the forestry ministry is on board to advance ideas that came out of the City of Quesnel’s Forestry Think Tank, attempting to get to some of the root issues of changing forest management to prevent fires, floods and beetle epidemics, as well as adapting the manufacturing side to deal with the fibre that’s available.

“We are really advancing our Forestry Think Tank process and moving into a third phase of that this September, with a planning session,” says Simpson.

“We are really getting solid support from the government to continue that work.”

READ MORE: Mayor of Quesnel meets with B.C. government to advance ideas on forest management, fibre manufacturing

Ministry of Health

A proposed $25-30 million addition to G.R. Baker Hospital is being advanced, says Simpson, although it is still in the planning stages.

“We have to do the final geotechnical assessments and First Nations consultations, but the Ministry committed that this is a project they want to see advancing,” he says.

The addition would house the emergency room and intensive care unit, with the current hospital space restructured to accommodate surgical aftercare and all other departments.

Progress is slow on the project, as there are sensitivities around the land base, says Simpson, with ancient Lhtako Dené burial grounds located in the area.

“We’ve talked to Lhtako, they don’t want to get in the way of the project but they want to respect and honour the ancestors who may be buried there. I think everyone is on the same page; we want to move it forward but we want to do due diligence on the front end of the project so that when we get the green light … the money will be committed and we’ll get it done,” explains Simpson.

Ministry of Education

Simpson says the city stood with School District 28 in recommending a new school to replace Quesnel Junior School.

The School District has already been working on a business case for a new school for the community. The current location of the school, in the old Maple Drive Junior School on Mountain Ash Road, is a temporary solution.

VIDEO: Moving a school: Quesnel Junior School on Maple Drive

“We said to the minister that we think the best option for our community is a new school, with a little bit of inherent overcapacity in that school, not just for an expanding population … but the new curriculum really demands more space. Kids do break outs, you need more space for discussion groups, and so on,” says Simpson.

“We made a pitch that they shouldn’t come in with a minimalistic approach. We would like them to come in and invest in our community for the longer term.”

The City also asked the Ministry to push forward with deconstructing the old QJS school in North Quesnel as soon as possible once a definite decision is made about a new school.

Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture

A new community, culture and recreation fund was announced at UBCM, with $134 million in funding available province-wide.

Simpson says the City of Quesnel had good discussions with the tourism and Indigenous relations ministers with regards to building a potential First Nations Cultural Centre in Quesnel, as well as other potential arts and culture projects which will be eligible for funding.

“We have a number of projects — a First Nations cultural project, a theatre, the rec centre — a number of eligible projects for that. We will be sitting with staff next week to figure out which projects to advance.”

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