B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for Forest, lands, natural resources and rural development paid a visit to Clearwater last week to meet with local politicians and union representatives.
Ravi Kahlon, who was appointed to the position just a few weeks ago, said one of his first tasks was to travel to communities that have been hit with challenging times due to mill closures.
“I was grateful for the mayor and council and others to make some time to chat with me about some of the challenges the community is going through, and also some opportunities coming down in the future,” said Kahlon.
The parliamentary secretary’s duties are three-fold, which include being a point of contact for the above mentioned local politicians, labor organizations as well as First Nations groups in communities faced with tough times.
The second duty Kahlon’s been tasked with involves monitoring conversations happening in timber supply areas within the Interior, and third is helping support communities and workers with the current economic transition.
One of the opportunities discussed during his visit had to do with expanded internet service in the area.
“The mayor had written a letter to us wanting to ensure this was at the top of our agenda and there’s considerable work happening with Telus to expand some of the services they have available in Vavenby—they’ve informed us they have capacity there to start expanding and that work is starting,” said Kahlon.
“We also talked about access for Clearwater to get some more money to work on expanding services, so we talked about a fund that’s available to apply for and how I’d be willing to help them in applying for that.”
The fund in question comes from the Northern Development Initiative Trust supported by the Ministry of Citizen’s Services and Kahlon said he was happy to make the connection after is was raised by mayor and council.
Another opportunity that was up for discussion was mental health support services for children, as the impact of the mill closures also has a significant impact on the youth in the area, particularly with the added stress of going back to the classroom in the fall.
“Obviously parents are going through challenging times, but children also hear everything that’s going on and they have some challenges with that, especially as the school year starts,” Kahlon said.
“We also talked about what the future of forestry looks like and how the region can attract some sort of value-added components, so there can employment around the waste in the forest, or how we can get more value out of what we have remaining.”
Though ministries in the provincial government are doing what they can to help people affected by the mill closures, Kahlon said federal counterparts also need to come to the table and those conversations have also been making advancements.
He’s been in touch with Amarjeet Sohi, federal minister of natural resources, and the province has sent a letter clearly detailing what’s needed from the federal government.
“We’ve had some follow up conversations with staff, so there’s some movement at the staff level,” said Kahlon.
“We just need to ensure the federal government understands we can’t wait and these supports need to come in as soon as possible.”