Black Press legislative columnist Tom Fletcher sat down with Premier John Horgan to talk about his plans for 2018. Here are excerpts. Video of the interview is below, with a transcript of the premier’s comments on action need in the forest industry after the 2017 forest fire season.
TF: It’s been a historic year for wildfires. We have new research from the Cariboo on the effects of B.C.’s post-World War II ‘war on forest fires,’ and the fuel load from that and beetle kill has left an enormous threat. What’s the next step for the B.C. government in 2018?
JH: I met [in early December] with mayors from the Interior, Quesnel, through Prince George, Fort St. James, to talk about fibre supply and the forest sector and how do we prepare for next year’s fire season. There’s nothing we can do about the season past.
I appointed George Abbott, a former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister, member for Shuswap, so he knows the Interior, and Maureen Chapman, an indigenous leader from the Sto:lo Nation, to work together to provide us with some answers on not just what happened. We’ve had successive reports that have said we need to address the interface between the forests and communities and getting fuel off the forest floor is critical to managing fires.
So that’s a part of what I expect they’ll come back with. I don’t want to be critical of the lack of work on these issues. It’s not to find blame for last year, it’s to prepare for next year. And I think George Abbott is uniquely suited as a former minister of forests, of Indigenous relations, and a host of other things, to bring to bear his experience.
We came together after 16 years in opposition and we dropped right down into the worst fire season ever, in areas where we did not have representation in the legislature, and that was difficult. And I give full marks to the MLAs in the region, while the fires were burning there was a sense of cooperation.
We need to prepare for next year.
TF: Mr. Abbott’s job is also to look at the viability of logging contractors and the state of the industry in general, leaving aside the U.S. trade situation. In terms of log exports or incentives to mill locally, what’s ahead in 2018?
JH: I heard from the mayors of Mackenzie, Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, quite clearly about the former rule that if companies harvest Crown land logs, they had to process those logs in that area. That was done away with by the B.C. Liberals, and that has led to super-mills and towns losing forestry jobs. We want to see what we can do to turn that around.
First, we want to get that burned wood out of the forest while it’s merchantable. That means accelerating permits. [Forests Minister] Doug Donaldson is working on that in the short term.
We have a significant challenge on the land base, in the Interior particularly, when it comes to fibre supply, and we need to work with communities and look at how we develop policies to keep jobs in communities, not export them to super-mills or offshore.
On the Coast, a completely different set of problems. I am very concerned, in my own community of Sooke, when I see the volume of trucks filled with logs, going right past where the old mill used to be, and several other mills, to tidewater to send those logs somewhere else.
The public has had enough of that.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org