By Raven Nyman
With the new year already underway, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod is poised to keep fighting for workers impacted by the province’s recent string of sawmill closures in a struggling forestry sector.
“It’s been a very tough time in the interior of British Columbia in terms of the forestry industry and to date I’ve been disappointed with both the provincial and federal government’s response to the crisis,” said McLeod.
Reelected as the Conservative MP for the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo in October, McLeod also announced her new position as the Conservative Party’s Shadow Minister for Natural Resources (Forestry and Mining) in November of 2019.
“As it relates to the North Thompson I think the biggest issues [in 2020 are] forestry and it’s not only the direct workers that have been impacted, but lots of times we forget about the fact that there’s many contractors that have been supporting the direct jobs at the mill… That to me is the biggest challenge.”
Still, she remains hopeful for other local opportunities for economic development in the near future.
“Whether it be the Trans Mountain pipeline, mining, [or] new small businesses—it’s such a beautiful area that I think lots of people would see incredible opportunity for a lifestyle and a future for a nice place to raise a family.”
McLeod pointed to a number of key areas that she believes the federal government must take responsibility for in addressing the forestry crisis.
“Number one is of course supporting industry, which includes issues like the softwood lumber agreement,” she said.
“We just signed a renewed NAFTA but the current government did not make the softwood lumber agreement a priority, which is a disappointment, but we want to continue to press on that because it’s adding approximately 20 per cent to our prices at the border to some of our biggest customers.”
In addition to minimizing red tape around international lumber trade, McLeod wants to see the federal government better support forestry workers impacted by recent mill closures.
“They [the federal government] talk about the softwood transition agreement that they provided in 2017. Most of it has expired and it’s difficult to see how that has flowed through to help workers when the crisis is now, not two years ago.”
McLeod also believes that the federal government has a responsibility to remain active in supporting community efforts for diversification.
“We have a federal government department called Western Economic Diversification,” she explained. “The minister for that department sits in Montreal and in the last number of years, a significant number of the dollars in British Columbia have gone to Vancouver and Victoria.”
McLeod noted that she has suggested —and will continue to suggest— to the Minister of Natural Resources that struggling communities get the support of diversification agencies as well as an increased priority for rural broadband internet access.
Reliable high-speed internet access is still an issue throughout the North Thompson Valley and many other parts of the province.
“There’s areas that are good and then there’s some gaps and what we really need to do is have good quality broadband throughout the North Thompson Valley,” said McLeod. “To attract people to come to your community to set up new business, they need to be able to count on the broadband. So there’s certainly work to be done.”
She added that efforts to upgrade these services have been ongoing in the area.
“There’s much more work to be done and I believe that resources that are available should put a priority on communities that are having challenges.”
In the future, McLeod hopes to see the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion provide short-term opportunities to help ease the loss of Canfor’s Vavenby mill.
There’s also hope for growth in the mining industry, she believes, but small businesses could bring potential, too: “That’s where I believe that the Western Diversification can help communities drive towards a new future.”
As January progresses, McLeod intends to have more one-on-one conversations with individuals in her constituency, and will also be submitting a budget to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Natural Resources with specific recommendations about how they can support communities within the North Thompson Valley.
Raven Nyman is a Freelance Multimedia Journalist