Bell promises North Thompson/Robson region fast track to jobs and economic development

Bell promises North Thompson/Robson region fast track to jobs and economic development

Pat Bell

Pat Bell

Superior tourism opportunities and innovative business propositions were laid on the tables at the Barriere – McBride regional economic development pilot project forum in Valemount, on Monday, Jan. 16.

The forum was the second of four to be held in the province; all part of the ‘Canada Starts Here: The BC Jobs Plan’, which is geared to engage the public in generating ideas aimed at attracting investment and job creation in areas that are consistent with the BC Jobs Plan.

Approximately 100 people attended the event; comprised of local, regional, provincial and federal government representatives, First Nations, business, industry, health, education, and stakeholders.

Key speaker was Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, along with MLAs Shirley Bond and Terry Lake, and MP Cathy McLeod.  Simpcw First Nation Chief Nathan Matthew, and Canim Lake Band Chief Michael Archie, also participated with other representatives from the Bands.

Barriere and Clearwater Mayors Bill Humphreys and John Harwood took part along with a number of other representatives from their Districts.

In his opening address to the group Minister Bell said the three regions picked for the BC Jobs Plan regional economic development pilot project forums (Cambell River, Barriere – McBride corridor, and North Fraser) were chosen because they are “Three regions ready to move forward, and move forward aggressively.”

“We need to make the right choices to move the economy of the region forward,” said Bell, “Not in three, four, or five years, but in three months, six months, and so on.  …A lot of the work has already been done in the region.”

Bell noted some of that work included Simpcw First Nation,  “They showed tremendous leadership initiative with Gilbert Smith Forest Products Ltd. a couple of years ago to make sure that the mill in Barriere can exist over the long term”. Stating as a result of that partnership being built between Simpcw and Gilbert Smith the mill continues to access enough fibre to even be able to add another shift.

“We want to be able to connect with the local municipalities.  To grow and build the economic opportunities in this region,” said the Minister.

He also said he sees the Barriere to McBride corridor as one region, “The issues facing both communities are very similar in nature, even though there is distance involved.  We’re here to come together, prioritize the key issues, and move forward quickly.  This is a pristine area.  It’s hard for me to understate the values here, why have they been passed over?”

Bell said the goal is to harmonize industrial endeavours, tourism, and agriculturally related opportunities in an environmentally responsible way.  He also noted that B.C. is now an approved destination status for China, and that China has been predicted to quite possibly surpass the U.S. economy by 2016; saying, “There is great opportunity to engage our international folks in wanting to participate in what we want to do.”

The Minister told those in attendance that the province was “Working aggressively to deal with you in a different way, and see you connected with government as well to help get big projects moving forward by tightening up time frames to move GDP forward and stimulate the province.  Today for me, is about pulling together the two valleys, something that Cathy McLeod started on.  During the next six to 18 months we want to see shovels in the ground and projects moving forward.  To get key projects moving forward by getting some of the roadblocks out of the way.”

Bell said that Premier Christy Clark had mandated that “this will happen”. He also noted it was important that the forum brought forth what the government needed to do to help make the initiatives and project in the region to be successful.

“Just because the answer might have been “no” [from government] a year or two ago, it might not be “no” today,” said Bell, “It’s probably worth the effort to have another look at it [project], and you might get a “yes”.”

The base of the forum was to network together in active roundtable discussions to identify what the priority goals of the region should be based on previously submitted information about current projects and initiatives within the region.

At the end of the day the priorities chosen by the consensus of all in attendance were then grouped into three categories;

1. Power;  projects that require power – either through IPP’s or improvements to current power services.

2. Fibre;  assisting related projects in accessing the required fibre for pellet plants, bio-energy, or manufacturing.

3. Destination Tourism; marketing initiatives and related issues

Bell was asked by a participant if the continuing holdup on solving power issues could be resolved?

“The answer is yes,” said Bell, “Today is a pivotal day as we come out of this related to the delivery of power and the economic impact.  Cabinet is looking at these projects [economic development forums] as a key component of the job strategy.  I think we have a very strong mandate to make some changes that we haven’t in the past.”

Asked how quickly can some of the initiatives be put into motion, Bell replied, “We need to get shovels in the ground within six months…Economic development can take a long time, but it doesn’t have to take a long time.  We’ve just got to get on with this stuff.  If we can’t get it done in six months it will never get done in six years.  …Our success is dependant on your success.”

Bell said that the next step will be a team of approximately 15 comprised of his Ministry, regional economic development officers, and key players such as BC Hydro would work together to review the forum’s recommendations and find the priorities that can be worked on first, and worked on quickly.  They will be providing monthly updates to the North Thompson/Robson region, and possibly will hold another forum within the region around April as a follow-up.

“We need to prioritize which of the projects identified fit into each of these three buckets,” said Bell, “I’m really happy with the direction; you’ve come up with some great themes.  I thought we would end up in a different place.  I think you have really driven this.  I can think of many ways the province can assist the process of these projects.  I thought this was a great day.”

Bell said the next step of sorting the projects will be fast tracked, “Then we’ll put the bucket down, and go like hell.”