Top stories of 2019
The temporary and permanent shutdowns at mills across B.C. started in the spring and continued throughout the rest of the year. Thousands of forest workers have been sent to the unemployment lines as a perfect storm of low lumber prices, high production costs, and the end of increased cut levels due to the mountain pine beetle infestation, hit the industry in 2019.
The opposition Liberals jumped on the NDP government, which was slow to react to the crisis, and called for Forest Minister Doug Donaldson to be removed. Donaldson, however, said government sought to deal work with communities first, and eventually unveiled a $69 million aid package for workers impacted by closures. It was soon revealed that government cancelled the Rural Dividend Program to find some of the money.
Mackenzie held a Mackenzie Matters rally to highlight the issue and with the slogan, “Our Logs, Our Jobs,” called for an end to logs being harvested in the area but milled elsewhere. Mill closures in Fort St. James prompted that community to declare a financial emergency.
2. Downtown social issues
Social issues in downtown Prince George came to a head in 2019. Homelessness, crime, drug use, people suffering mental health issues and poverty have plagued downtown for decades. However, most agree that the number of street people downtown have increased in the past couple of years.
The issue came to a head when Kate Roxburgh confronted a shoplifter in her store, Topaz Bead Gallery. She came away from the altercation with a shiner. The incident prompted an ad hoc business group to form to demand some action on downtown issues. The Prince George Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Prince George, and the Gateway BIA also teamed up to present a list of actions to city council.
Council, for its part, convened a special public meeting that was attended by more than 150 people. Subsequently council has formed a special 14-member committee tasked with presenting possible solutions to social issues downtown by June.
3. Caribou recovery
While 150 jammed City Hall demand answers on homelessness, 600 jammed the Civic Centre demanding answers from the provincial government on its plan to protect caribou in northeastern B.C. The issue came to a head when it was revealed that the government had reached a tentative agreement with the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations. Local government officials, industry, and backcountry users sounded the alarm bells, concerned that negotiations on the plan were did not involve any of the other user groups and that it contained a moratorium on increased industrial activity on an area between Mackenzie, Chetwynd, and Tumbler Ridge.
A 30,000 signature petition calling on government to hit the pause button on the plan. Premier John Horgan admitted that government had dropped the ball on the plan and appointed former Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom to be the governments liaison on the issue. Government did hit the pause button on implementing the plan … for a few months. The moratorium on industrial development was implemented in June.
4. Federal election
Late summer and early fall was dominated by the federal election. If there was any surprise in the results, it was how resoundingly the Cariboo, Prince George, and Peace River areas endorsed the Conservative incumbents. In Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies Bob Zimmer was re-elected with 70 per cent of the popular vote. In Cariboo-Prince George, incumbent Todd Doherty put to bed Liberal contender Tracy Calogheros’ contention that a majority of voters in the riding were progressive voters and didn’t want a Conservative MP. He won with 53 per cent of the vote.
5. City Borrowing
It was at a finance and audit committee in January when the public heard of city plans to borrow $32 million for a slew of projects. The borrowing plan came just months after a civic election where borrowing wasn’t an issue and after a referendum where residents approved borrowing up to $45 million to replace the Four Seasons Pool and Firehall #1. The borrowing plan kicked off an alternative approval process, which allows residents to say ‘no’ to the borrowing should enough signatures be obtained on each of the 11 projects.
A small group of citizens, under the banner “Enough is Enough,” tried hard to gain enough signatures. In addition, the matter kicked off a city debate over borrowing at City Hall and when enough is actually enough.
None of the 11 projects came up with the requisite 5,546 signatures, through the alternative approval process, to force the city to rethink the projects.