Fort St. James was host to a huge rally on Saturday August 23.
Organized by local concerned citizens and Stand Up for the North, it brought people from McBride, Valemount, Prince George and Mackenzie.
Rick Montemurro and Winson Cheung, spokesmen for the rally, began the rally by thanking everyone for coming out.
The first speaker was Fort St. James mayor Rob MacDougall.
“It takes a collective effort to get results,” MacDougall said. “Francois Hamel (local union representative) said that we needed to get the (Employment Insurance) EI benefits extended because they will run out before the mill situation the mill situation was solved. We talked to anyone who will listen, and I will keep in touch with Francois and Winson and do our best.”
One of the biggest issues besides EI extension is log movement. Those who attended the rally spoke strongly of tying timber to communities.
“The Minister of Forests has said that (the Liberals) will not reinstate the appurtenance clause, so we need another idea,” MacDougall said. “So as the licences are sold we have to go to the proponents and ask them to show commitment and that is food for thought.”
Log exports are another sensitive issue.
“As we export logs, we export jobs, and I am sure that as you talk to communities on the coast it is not the best solution but it is the best right now as they have logging and harvesting and we have to respect their jobs,” MacDougall said.
Another issue that MacDougall dealt with was the carbon tax.
“We have sent a letter that we are not in favour of the carbon tax,” MacDougall said. “We recognize that there are concerns about global warming, but there was not enough consultation.
“Control of our resources is a sore spot for me. We have a court in New York that is deciding what the future of Fort St.. James will be. We have to lobby the government to not allow the license to be an asset in a bankruptcy. If there is a bankruptcy we are at the mercy of the receiver and the courts.”
The mayor also shared his concern about what he sees as our most valuable resource.
“We are losing control of oil and gas, but there is something more important and that is our water,” he said.
“In Alberta there are ranchers with water licences and that is considered an asset to them. They can sell the water, perhaps they can sell to the south (USA) and if we lose control of our water we lose control of our lives.”
Training money is another issue that the mayor identified.
“If you contacted Gord Palmer and Ann McCormick there is an opportunity to set up training programs it may not be enough but it is a start,” he said.
About 50 per cent of timber leaves the Fort St. James area.
“If T’loh goes full tilt, Conifex gets going, Apollo and Northern Interior Forest Products, a co-gen or pellet plant gets going we can utilize 80 per cent of our volume instead of the 50 per cent we use now.
“We have the timber and others want it and we have to keep long term and affordable timber here for our processing facilities. That will be a challenge but I now how hard we can work together to make it happen.”
MacDougall spoke about the Job Opportunity Program, which was set up to help unemployed forestry workers.
“I have talked to the people involved in the Job Opportunity Program, and I sense relief and pride, and the work they are doing is a legacy that will be left in town for years to come,” MacDougall said.
The connector road between Mackenzie and Fort St. James offers a lot of opportunities.
“We developed a great relationship with Mackenzie over the last couple of years,” he said.
“They don’t have another route out of town and nether do we.
“We don’t have a way out, and there is a safety factor, and an opportunity for a exchange of sporting groups and the public at large, resources, and tourism.”
MacDougall said that he is waiting for a public announcement that everything is signed and can resume operations.
“If it is one shift, it is one shift more then we have today,” he said.
“There is a strong rumour that Stuart Lake Lumber will start up and I am optimistic about that.
“Terrane Metals will go through a 180-day Environmental Assessment review. They are not putting a camp in there as people will live in Fort St. James and Mackenzie or other towns like Vanderhoof, and that will help our community moving forward.”