Valemount conference develops regional plan

Opportunities and propositions were on the table at the Barriere - McBride economic development forum in Valemount on Jan. 16.

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 M.P. Cathy McLeod.  Simpcw First Nation Chief Nathan Matthew, the chief of the Canim Lake Band, as well as 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 Minister Bell said the three regions picked for the BC Jobs Plan regional economic development pilot project forums (Campbell 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.”

Bell said that Simpcw First Nation, “… 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,” noting as a result of that partnership that is being built between Simpcw and Gilbert Smith the mill continues to access enough fiber to even be able to add another shift.

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 endeavors, tourism, and agriculturally related opportunities in an environmentally responsible way. He also noted that B.C. is now has approved destination status for China; saying, “There is great opportunity to engage our international folks in wanting to participate in what we want to do.”

The minister noted 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.”

Bell said that Premier Christy Clark had mandated “… this will happen.”

“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 priorities chosen by consensus of all in attendance were in three categories:

1. Power: projects that require power – either through independent power producers or an improvement in current power services.

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

3. Destination Tourism; marketing initiatives and related issues

A participant asked Bell 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.”

Bell said that the next step will be a team of approximately 15 comprised of people from his ministry, regional economic development officers, and key players such as BC Hydro. They will provide monthly updates to the North Thompson/Robson region, and possibly will hold another forum within the region around April.

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

– Jill Hayward – North Thompson Star/Journal