In politics, you have to look like you’re doing something.
Right now the NDP aren’t accomplishing much of either when it comes to allaying concerns of Interior communities hit by temporary and permanent mill closures.
In reality, there is little government can do when major employers close down other than help fast track Employment Insurance claims, set up job re-training programs, etc. Government can’t swoop in force a company to re-open or bail it out (unless, of course, you’re the federal government and we’re talking pipelines, but that’s another story).
But governments can at least show that they are concerned. While I’m sure the NDP is concerned about job losses in the forest industry, it can do a better job of showing it. They should probably take a page out of the Liberal handbook.
When the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake exploded, killing two men and injuring 20 more, then-premier Christy Clark was on the next plane to the community. There wasn’t much the province could actually do to get mill operational again, but she was there grieving with the community, letting everyone know that the province had their back.
Granted that’s a little bit different than a market-driven closure, but it was a show of support and that’s what’s needed now.
The NDP are being pragmatic by pointing to the real causes of the mill closures, which are out of the provincial government’s control. Fair enough, but they still need to support communities that are suffering. In fairness, the government did announce a $3.3 million advanced forestry training program in Cranbrook, Kamloops and Nanaimo. It will give 108 people training and work experience in the forest sector (what’s left of it). This comes just a couple of days after the province announced a $1 million grant to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to hand out free or low-cost tickets to performances this year.
Talk about striking the wrong chord.
And the Liberals are capitalizing on the NDP’s intransigence. Listening to Interior Liberal MLAs, who presided over massive job losses in the forest sector during their 17 years in power, one would think all the forest industry woes only came about in the last two years.
That, of course, isn’t true. But when people are suffering, they want to point the finger at someone and it’s easy to blame a government that isn’t seen to be doing anything.
Liberal MLAs, who have been down this road many times before, have taken to organizing meetings in Interior communities to discuss the sagging forest industry. The Prince George Chamber of Commerce will be hosting one of those meetings Friday with Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond, Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris, Kamloops South Thompson MLA Todd Stone, and Kamloops North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar. There was one in Quesnel a couple of weeks ago.
Good for them. The only problem, at least for the NDP, is they ignore these meetings, or similar ones that they organize, at their peril.
The meetings will undoubtedly turn into bitch sessions about the provincial government (and I’m sure our Liberal MLAs won’t be encouraging any of that sort of behaviour). That doesn’t help anyone, except the Liberals’ electoral hopes.
So, while the Interior watches, the Liberals, who really can’t do anything about the forest sector woes, at least look like they’re doing something.