When Council attended the Union of BC Municipalities convention this year we enjoyed unprecedented access to ministers of the new provincial government. Our access included eleven formally booked sessions with ministers and their senior staff plus a number of ad hoc meetings with other ministers and staff and a meeting with the Premier (with the Chair of the Cariboo Regional District and other mayors from the Cariboo region). This past week, two other provincial government ministers visited Quesnel, with one, the Minister of Agriculture, spending the entire day here meeting with a robust cross-section of the agriculture sector.
This direct and continuous access to the current decision-makers in the provincial government stands in stark contrast to the very limited access and exposure we had to the previous government. Despite the fact that Premier Clark and many ministers visited Quesnel on numerous occasions, neither Council nor I were given the opportunity to have the kind of access and influence we now have over the provincial agenda. It’s refreshing, and very hopeful, that we now have such direct, continuous access and influence over the priority setting for our region and community.
The key agenda we are pushing with the provincial government is to see critical public sector investments made in our community over the next few years, projects that will create real jobs and local economic benefits while enabling us to increase our ability to attract and retain residents, visitors, and investment. For example: we’re asking the Minister of Health to fast track the decision to build a new intensive care unit and emergency facility at G.R. Baker Memorial Hospital and also consider building additional seniors’ care beds here to alleviate the current demand on our hospital beds; we’re asking the Ministry of Education to commit to building the long asked for new junior secondary school; and, we’ve asked the Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training to approve an addition to the Quesnel campus trades facility to expand the power engineering program that’s offered here. Our collaboration with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is also back on track, and we’re looking forward to working with ministry staff as they engage the public in a consultation process on options to see significant capital improvements made to the Highway 97 corridor through Quesnel.
Another key message we are promoting with the provincial government is that we were already undergoing a significant economic and social transition before this year’s fire event and that the wildfire impact on our forest ecosystems and timber supply has merely accelerated the need for us to innovate and re-invent our traditional forest sector while ensuring all our other job creating sectors (agriculture, mining, tourism, small business, education, etc.) are firing on all cylinders. This message is resonating with the provincial government and we’ve been provided with additional financial resources from the Province of British Columbia to develop a comprehensive transition and recovery strategy that we will present to the provincial cabinet in the New Year.
Our provincially funded transition and recovery team will be announced in the coming weeks and we look forward to engaging the public, not for profit organizations, and businesses across all sectors in the development of an innovative and exciting strategy to ensure our region remains resilient during this challenging transition period.
Bob Simpson is the Mayor of Quesnel. He can be reached via email here