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Oakes plays politics when crisis hits Quesnel

Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes had a chance to take the high road.

But, alas, she chose to wallow in the muck.

When Tolko Forest Industries announced the permanent closure of its Quest Wood sawmill putting 150 people out of work in Quesnel, Oakes had an opportunity to show some leadership and help her hometown navigate the tough waters of losing a major employer.

Instead, she chose to lash out at Premier John Horgan and the NDP government and spend her time callously trying to score political points.

“John Horgan failing forestry communities; hard-working families in Quesnel paying for his mistakes,” reads the banner headline on her news release over a photo her flashing her trademark cheesy smile. The Liberal spin doctors couldn’t even take the time to get a photo of her consoling an impacted worker.

She then sets her sights on Bill 22, the NDP’s plan to reverse Liberal forest policy changes enacted 15 years ago which made timber-cutting rights a saleable commodity for forest companies.

Prior to the Liberal changes in 2004, the province had to OK the transfer of timber licences between forest companies and there was a five per cent clawback. That was back when the philosophy was that the timber resource belonged to the people of the province, not the forest companies. The Liberals changed all that.

“Bill 22, their latest mistake, puts ideology ahead of what’s best for the hard-working B.C. families who depend heavily on the sector, by creating division within forestry-dependent communities,” said Oakes.

The irony here, which is apparently lost on Oakes, is that Bill 22 has not yet been enacted. The biggest knock against Bill 22 was that it was sprung on the forest industry without consultation, which is a fair criticism.

The bill was given first reading April 11, i.e. when it was sprung on the industry. Tolko announced the shut down a month later, so it’s unlikely it had much to do with the decision to close its Quesnel mill.

That didn’t stop Oakes.

“These measures will guarantee only one thing, which is that our high-paying forestry jobs will leave B.C. for other jurisdictions like the United States – and it’s clearly already begun.”

On this she’s at least partly correct. On November 1 last year, Tolko Industries and Southeastern Timber Products announced a 50-50 joint-venture partnership in a lumber mill in Ackerman, Mississippi.

Tolko is the latest of many British Columbia forest companies to take the earnings they made harvesting the resources of the people of B.C. and head south. What Oakes seems oblivious to is the fact B.C. forest companies started moving across the line long before John Horgan and the NDP ever came to power. In fact, some even suggest it is a direct result of forest policies enacted when the Liberals, and Oakes, inhabited the governing side of the legislature.

However, the reality in Quesnel is there just isn’t enough wood to keep the mill operating.

“Unfortunately, we do not have enough economic fibre to keep all of our British Columbia mills running efficiently and productively,” said Brad Thorlakson, Tolko President and CEO.

Everyone, except Oakes apparently, has known that allowable annual cuts, which were increased 15 years ago to harvest forests killed by the mountain pine beetle, are now coming down. Everyone has known that the elevated cut levels of the past decade or so have been temporary.

Cumulative percentage of merchantable forest volume killed since 1999.

Throw in the devastating 2017 wildfire season and the Quesnel Timber Supply Area has been one of the hardest hit in the province. The accompanying graphic, prepared by the ministry of forests, show just how hard the area (and Vanderhoof) has been hit, going back to 1999 when the, gee, the Liberals were in power.

None of this makes it easier for the families who are affected, but neither does having an MLA who chooses to snipe and play politics rather than lead her community through a crisis.

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