Kenneth Last, the president of BC Wildlife Federation Region 5 (the Cariboo region), speaks to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services June 19 during a public hearing on the 2020 provincial budget at the West Fraser Centre. Lindsay Chung photo

Quesnel groups provide input into 2020 provincial budget

Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services hears a variety of requests

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services’s public hearing in Quesnel was winding down Wednesday evening when Robert Cosma of Nazko First Nation sat at the front of the table and began to talk about what his community in Nazko needs.

Representing the Nazko Emergency Management Team, Cosma addressed the seven MLAs sitting in the Dunkley Room at the West Fraser Centre and told them how Nazko has been hit hard by wildfires and floods in the last three years.

“Our goal is to make our community safer and better,” he said. “In 2017, the community of Trout Lake was evacuated due to the wildfires within the community of Nazko First Nation. We were evacuated for 14 weeks for the fire, as well as the entire Nazko Valley community was evacuated that year. In 2018, Trout Lake was evacuated again for six weeks due to the floods that took out part of our reserve. In 2018, we were also evacuated for another four weeks due to wildfires where the fires actually came to within two kilometres of our houses in Trout Lake.

“That’s 24 weeks altogether in two years that Nazko Valley community has been evacuated, so the need to protect our community, it can’t get any more of a dire situation. Myself and my family who live out in Trout Lake, we have my grandfather who is 92 years old and my grandmother who is 86 years old; to be evacuated for 24 weeks in two years, to pull them out of their daily routine of working on their farms every day and putting them into a hotel and getting them to eat at one restaurant for 24 weeks in two years, that’s so hard to watch.”

On behalf of the Nazko Emergency Team, Cosma put in a request for about $160,000 to purchase two trailers with firefighting and first aid equipment, such as pumps and hoses and generators, as well as personal protective equipment and first aid equipment, which they could hook onto their trucks and get out to where lightning has struck. They also want to produce an emergency handbook for all the community members.

“My goal with the Nazko Emergency Team is not to have this happen again for our community,” said Cosma. “What we are asking for is some support to help us buy the equipment for being able to fight a wildfire in our community. We are an hour and a half from the local department to get up to help us, BC Wildfire Service. If we could get two trailers that are equipped with firefighting equipment where as soon as that lightning strikes, we can send out our crew, they can hit that fire right away before that hour and a half before BC Wildfire can get there, that could save our whole community.”

Cosma told the committee they’ve had three fires this year already, including one on April 9 right behind the Emcon building in Nazko, and he says if it wasn’t for the community members getting onto that fire right away, they would have lost their whole community.

Cosma says they have 33 people who are trained in the community with S100 and S185 firefighting training and eight other members who are trained as Level 3 firefighting crews with BC Wildfire Service training, they have five first responders, two Level 3 first aiders, five members who are going for Emergency Social Service training and two members who have been trained in FireSmart.

“We have the capacity, we have the education and the training in our community, but how good is training if you don’t have the equipment to do anything?” he said.

Cosma says they even have a secure facility where they could store the equipment.

“If we don’t have the equipment out there to continue fighting fires, we could lose our whole community, and that’s putting over 120 households out of houses,” said Cosma.

The provincial government’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services was in Quesnel Wednesday, June 19 for a public hearing as part of the 2020 BC Budget Consultation. It was the committee’s 13th meeting in eight days, and two more meetings were planned this week.

The committee, which is made up of seven MLAs from government and the official opposition, is mandated to hold a budget consultation and report on the results.

In Quesnel, the committee heard from Paul French from the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce; Kenneth Last from BC Wildlife Federation Region 5; Kris Sims from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation; Rebecca Beuschel from the Literacy Quesnel Society; Mayor Bob Simpson from the City of Quesnel; Sheila and Brian Murland from the B.C. ME/FM Society; Susan MacNeill and Ruth Scoullar from the Seniors Advocacy Services; Lynn Mathiesen from the Quesnel and District Child Development Centre and the Quesnel Community Connect Committee; Sage Gordon and Jennifer Roberts from the Quesnel Cattlemen’s Association; Rick Wittner and Jackie Sarginson from the Cariboo Mining Association; Heather Lamb, Pat Harris and Nancy Harris from the Spinal Cord Injury Organization of British Columbia; Robert Cosma from the Nazko Emergency Management Team; and Ed Coleman from the Heritage Property Managers Group of B.C. and Barkerville Historic Town and Park.

Each speaker had 10 minutes to provide comments and answer questions from the committee.

Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson told the committee about what the City has been doing the past several years to deal with the changing forestry industry.

“The substance of the written statement is we didn’t have to be in crisis mode, we didn’t,” he said as he submitted a written statement and gave the committee an information package. “In 2010, predictions of actual mill closures were tabled with the government of the day, and they chose to do nothing to prepare us for that. So here we are in a situation where the City of Quesnel, over the last four and a half years, has been preparing for a transition that was a known event.”

Simpson pointed out Quesnel used to have five forest products companies operating in our community, with one of them, West Fraser, controlling almost all of the volume in our Timber Supply Area, and employing almost all of our employees. Two mills closed during the last administration, and this year, Quesnel will lose another 210 jobs with the closure of the Tolko mill and the loss of a permanent shift at the West Fraser sawmill.

In 2014, the City decided to embark on “an aggressive transition strategy,” and the new council, elected last year, has committed to that strategy, Simpson told the committee.

He explained that within the last few years, some of the initiatives the City has taken include a three-year industrial tax freeze, has worked very hard to get any grants that are available, has done a complete rebranding, has become a hosting community and is working to become a hub of innovation in forestry and re-inventing that sector through the Future of Forestry Think Tank strategy.

Simpson highlighted four things he wanted to leave with the committee.

“One, we need flexible funding from the provincial and federal governments; we need you to fund our plan, not force us to fund what your desires are for us through application processes,” he said. “Second, we need dependable year-over-year infrastructure funding, not for core infrastructure but for the infrastructure demands put on us because provinces and federal governments change their standards. For example, right now, manganese standards have changed – that’s an $18-million bill for us to go to water treatment.

“Third, we need more mental health, we need more addiction services and we need more housing. The No. 1 stumbling block for us achieving our aspirations is we don’t have enough services for those who need them in our community. The fourth is we need more resources now for emergency preparedness and evacuation services; we need to move away from the volunteer base to something that’s more consistent year-over-year.”

Anyone who missed the public hearing but would like to provide input into the 2020 provincial budget can fill out an online survey at bcleg.ca/FGSbudget or mail written comments to Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, Room 224, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C., V8V 1X4. The deadline for all input is June 28.

Once the deadline has passed, the committee will review the public input during the month of July and will issue a report with recommendations in late July or early August.

READ MORE: Provincial budget committee coming to Quesnel in June



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