Mackenzie is a community worth saving.
That is the message Save our Community Rally organizers Nora Wilkins, Alf Wilkins and Roxanne Barton hope to send to policy makers in Victoria. The rally is slated to run from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today in Mackenzie, approximately 192 km north of Prince George.
The meeting is being held the same day a Forest Roundtable chaired by Forest and Range Minister Rich Coleman is taking place in Mackenzie.
“It’s a community we want to keep. It’s home,” Alf said. “We love living in Mackenzie and want it to be saved.”
Mackenzie, a town of approximately 4,500 people, has lost about 1,000 jobs due to a series of mill closures and layoffs by Canfor, AbitibiBowater and Pope & Talbot.
In addition to direct layoffs at mills, the community has lost many jobs in related forestry areas such as logging and trucking. The organized estimated unemployment has reached 80 per cent in the community.
Forestry-dependent communities are facing a crisis, Alf said, and need immediate assistance from government.
“This is for the community to get together… to make sure they know we need help, and we need it now,” he said. “We don’t want to be a community that has to travel to work.”
The rally will feature 17 speakers, including NDP leader Carole James, Minister of Agriculture Pat Bell, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) president Barry O’Neill and NDP forest critic Bob Simpson.
Nora Wilkins said the government has had six months since the layoffs started to take action and hasn’t.
“We need to take care of the forest better,” Nora said. “Stop exporting raw logs.”
The community is losing more than forestry workers, she said, it’s losing teachers, nurses and other professionals.
“They’re irreplaceable,” she said. “A lot of people want to stay and retire in our community, but they can’t if the infrastructure is gone.”
Mackenzie has a great sense of community, but that will be destroyed if laid-off workers have to leave to work.
“You aren’t going to find Mackenzie anywhere else.”
Barton said the community needs support from its neighbours, like Prince George.
“Prince George has a big voice, and to have that support means a lot.”
Fort St. James workers held a similar rally in Vanderhoof yesterday to coincide with the Forest Roundtable meeting there.