Mayor and council are heading to the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver at the end of the month, where they will be lobbying for solutions to the different issues that Vanderhoof faces.
Forestry, housing, internet, hospital tax, policing are some of the main concerns that will be discussed with various ministers during the meeting, said Gerry Thiessen, mayor of Vanderhoof.
Thiessen told the Express that one of their main concerns is the forest industry and they want the province to take cautious decisions to make sure jobs flourish in the community. The main point they want to bring up is stumpage rates.
He said stumpage is necessary to deal with softwood lumber issues but these rates are not adjusted as quickly as the market changes.
“Last year we had really good market condition and stumpage right now is based on that. You see other provinces with strong markets and our government has good opportunity here,” he said.
The other area that Thiessen said they would focus on, is education. He said we would have a stronger EBUS school, if the province allowed public schools to educate internationally.
“That would be good for the diversification for our economy but it would also be good for people who would love to have a B.C. education,” he said.
Thiessen added that council members have a meeting with Adrian Dix, minister of health, to discuss the high hospital tax in the regional district.
Vanderhoof’s hospital taxes are about 40 percent higher than other hospital districts.
“Our hospital taxes are incredibly high in our hospital district. So we need to make sure that the ability to pay for good health care is there no matter where you live in the province. We definitely need some infrastructure here in Vanderhoof so we will be advocating for that,” he said.
Thiessen added that council would like to work with Northern Health and the ministry of health to find regional solutions for the best health care that residents could see accomplished.
In terms of housing, Thiessen said, the houses on sale in Vanderhoof are “almost non-existent, and it is a very poor selection.”
“One of the things that government has taken away is the ability that you could still be a owner and build your house, but the requirements are onerous on home owners to build their own house and it makes it very difficult,” Thiessen said.
If the population of Vanderhoof goes over 5,000 residents then the community has to pay for the RCMP. Thiessen said the district has $1 million in reserves for that purpose right now.
“It is our desire to see our community grow and when we grow, we will diversify more… Housing is going to take a combination of a couple of things — regulations can be relaxed a bit and allow for more owners, builders to come in. Secondly, we need some investment when it comes to public housing and get some opportunity where people will come in and locate in the town,” he said.
When it comes to internet, Vanderhoof struggles.
Thiessen said the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako is doing a broadband advocacy for the entire regional district area at UBCM.
He said there may be a new internet provider coming to Vanderhoof and that more information in regard to that will be made available in the next couple of months.
Lastly, but importantly, with Bill 52, an Agricultural Land Commission Amendment Act, a lot of farmers in the region have been affected, Thiessen said.
There are three major things that Bill 52 aims to do as per a Nov. 5 media release by the ministry of agriculture:
– “Restoring the integrity of the ALR by reinstating one zone for all ALR land in B.C., making it clear that all land in the ALR benefits from the same strong protections.”
– “Addressing mega-mansions and speculation in the ALR by limiting new house sizes to less than 500 square metres [about 5,400 square feet], except through application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) in cases where it would support farming; and requiring an ALC approval of any additional residences in the ALR to curb non-farm development.”
– “Cracking down on the dumping of construction debris, toxic waste and other fill in the ALR that can irreparably damage arable soil on valuable farmland, through increased penalties.”
Thiessen said council will be meeting with the minister of agriculture and bringing up their concerns. The two things that affect farmers are – not allowing farmland to divide the area into two zones and depositing debris to other farmlands, he said.
“The decision that they made not to have two different zones, they are making decisions that are very legitimate when you live down in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver. They don’t work in northern B.C. we certainly need to see the agricultural commission go back to the two zone area,” he said.
Due to the lack of residences available for seniors, a lot of them live on a separate units on their children’s farmland.
“This kind of decision totally slows down and stops people investing in the area that have good legitimate ideas. Some legislation that has come in with the land commission this past year specially secondary housing units on agricultural property has really hurt a number of people in our area with senior parents who need to have their parents living close by just because we are short in seniors housing,” he said.
He said there needs to be an opportunity for those people to take care of parents on their property.
The other issue is moving debris to other properties, Thiessen said, noting the rule across the province says one can only bring a very limited amount of material from one property to another.
This affects Vanderhoof as the district’s agricultural community sometimes have long driveways in their properties.
“And for gravel, we have feedlots where you have to move gravel from one property to another,” Thiessen explained.
Read the upcoming editions of The Express for more details on Bill 52.