In the face of challenges, the only way to find solutions is to work together.
That was Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes’s message Jan. 22 when she spoke at the Quesnel and District Chamber of Commerce meeting at the Billy Barker Showroom.
Oakes says leading up to her speech at the meeting, she was reflecting back at her time at the Chamber of Commerce, which started in 1999 and when northern communities fought to make sure there was a university, medical training school and cancer clinic in the north.
“Then we were part of one of the most exceptional things I’ve seen in the north, which was the Northern Decade Economic Development Summit that we held in the early 2000s, where we said ‘if we get the Port of Prince Rupert, if we can get investment in roads, if we can fight to make sure the infrastructure that is required to move our community forward happens in the north, then exciting things are going to happen,’” she said.
“But the only way, ladies and gentlemen, that happens, as we look to 2020, is if we work together. That is the lesson we learned through the Northern Decade. Those are the lessons we learned when we fought to get the cancer clinic. Those are the lessons we learned when we had to fight to get the university here. The only way that the north succeeds is if the north works together.”
Oakes says she recognizes there is a lot of stress and uncertainty right now, and a lot of people in this region are struggling.
“Sometimes, it’s easy when you look at another community and they may have something that we don’t, to say ‘why aren’t we getting that’ and ‘we should have that,’” she said. “What we need to recognize is when everyone does better, and I include our indigenous populations — when our indigenous populations rise out of poverty and they are doing well and we have investments in our region, everyone is doing well. When our small businesses do well, then we all do well because we know that money goes back into the community.”
Oakes highlighted the provincial government’s agreements with Lhoosk’uz Dené (Kluskus) and Ulkatcho Nations in support of the Blackwater Gold Mine project, which commits to share a portion of the provincial mineral tax revenue collected from the planned project, as an exciting opportunity for this region.
“While the final decision hasn’t come for Blackwater New Gold, it’s the type of foresight we need to be looking at as a community,” she said.
“Sometimes, it takes us 10 years to get a particular vision or a particular project to move forward, and the reason I think I’m so incredibly proud of the work that the First Nations have done is because it’s a significant investment that we’re hopeful will happen in our region. By advocating for and supporting and making sure we were able to support the First Nations on their advocacy for that road [connecting Kluskus to Vanderhoof], we are now connected to that project. And if it’s a 1,500-man camp, and we now have a road that connects to that camp, and we’re able to work with our small business community to work collaboratively together so that our small businesses get first in line for some of those contracts, that’s going to be an exciting opportunity.”
Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson was also hopeful in his speech, after spending two days with Premier John Horgan.
“We had the premier’s full attention on Monday [Jan. 20] here with meetings with local leadership, the chair of the Cariboo Regional District, some of our chiefs, and we really dug into our economic transition strategy, we looked at our Forestry Innovation Centre,” he said. “Then we met with a pretty interesting group — the whole demographics changed when we went over to Long Table Grocery and met with some of our younger agriculturists and food processors because we have a food innovation hub initiative underway with the Ministry of Agriculture. I haven’t been in very many meetings where you have that much youth, so it’s a pretty cool sector for us to be tapping into.”
The premier then toured the plywood plant and the sawmill and had some meetings with West Fraser, explained Simpson.
On Jan. 21, Simpson and the mayors of Mackenzie, Vanderhoof and Fort St. James, as well as representatives from Northern Health and others, spent the day in Prince George with Horgan.
Simpson says they looked at other issues the communities are dealing with, including community safety, harm reduction, homelessness, more housing supports and the regional economic development strategy.
“We’ve never had that much attention from a premier of the province of British Columbia, who spent two full days in our area digging in and trying to understand, meeting with local leadership and hearing our stories and what our opportunities are as we see them, and we’re looking forward to the follow-up,” said Simpson. “I’ve been asked by the premier’s assistant to do a road map for them on the things we believe the Province should be moving faster on to assist us in our transition.”
Before the Chamber meeting, Simpson was on the phone with Seamus O’Regan, the federal Minister of Natural Resources.
“He had a conference call with all the mayors in the area to specifically talk about what they can bring to the table too,” he said. “So I’m hopeful over the next little while we’re going to see some more resources coming into our community. Council is well prepared to take full advantage of that, and as the MLA said, we fundamentally understand the role that our commercial enterprises play in our economy.”
Following the presentations, the Chamber of Commerce elected its 2020 executive.
Tracy Bond was elected president, while Wendy Heppner will serve as vice-president, and Greg Andrews will be the second vice-president. Ryan Broughton was elected treasurer, and Julia Dillabough is the past president.
The directors are Richard Brandson, Rick Wittner, Debbie Roch, Angela Andruchow, Dogan Dag, Barb Dodge, Tawnie Fehr, Tim Lofstrom, Kathy Wallace and Andrew Cuthbertson.
“Thank you again for those of you who are standing for the board,” said Simpson, who installed the new board. “It is an important function in our community and an important role. Tracy and the board, I look forward to continuing to work with you.”