Campbell River Jobs Forum marks path to prosperity

Jobs minister Pat Bell bullish on high-speed sawmill

Agility, collaboration, singular focus, aggressiveness – these are the essential elements of economic renewal in Campbell River.

Add one more critical ingredient – partnerships with First Nations.

This is the formula for Campbell River’s success spelled out in convincing fashion by Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell this week.

Bell and a small platoon of ministry facilitators descended on Campbell River Monday to stage what most participants considered to be a thought-provoking day of brainstorming about the city’s future prosperity.

More than 60 of the city’s civic, political, educational, business and First Nations leaders assembled at the Coast Discovery Inn for what was billed as a “BC Jobs Plan regional economic investment pilot project forum.”

After eight hours of strategic give and take about the city’s economic future the answers were still just out of reach, but a list of potential projects was emerging and the pathway ahead was well marked.

Several ideas for future

development were laid on the table. Rivercorp CEO Vic Goodman said this list would be distilled by a smaller local committee over the next 60 days to form a short list of initiatives that the government can support.

On the table Monday were:  Natural resources education facilities, an aquatic park, a geo-science mapping initiative, destination marketing, green energy projects and more.

In a briefing with the media, the minister listed a few ideas that caught his interest including: the development of a green industrial park, expansion of the city’s port capacity, aboriginal tourism and – one of his pets – lumber manufacturing.

Throughout it all, the need for First Nations partnerships was top of mind for Bell.

In a speech to forum participants he said, “One of the reasons why I was attracted to Campbell River is because of the work and the leadership of the First Nations in the room here … and the relationships that exist. There is no question in my mind that if you have an adversarial relationship with First Nations things will grind down in the courts, you won’t move projects ahead in a timely fashion and no one will win.”

In a session with local media the minister embellished: “The relationship between the First Nations community and the local political leadership is very solid.

“First Nations leaders and the non-aboriginal leaders are kind of aligned in their view and are trying to move things forward economically. I sensed more than anything a desire, a real commitment to focus efforts and move forward.”

Bell is bullish on the prospect of developing a high speed sawmill in the region. Again it was an opportunity to highlight collaboration with First Nations.

“We did lots of work when I was the minister of forests on this. The estimates I was provided clearly indicate a log supply of upwards of two million cubic metres per year of second growth (on Vancouver Island).”

One of the challenges, he told reporters, is that the potential timber supply is “held in many different hands.”

“If we are going to get a high speed second growth mill built on central and northern Vancouver Island we’ve got to do it in collaboration with existing tenure holders who are prepared to make the type of commitment necessary to secure a fibre supply.

“We are allowed to award tenure to First Nations communities,” Bell reminded the media.

He said a model, “we have used in a couple of circumstances has been one of working for a partnership between a First Nations and a company that provides the same level of security.”

Dan Smith, a member of the Laich-Kwil-Tach First Nation and an executive member of the First Nations Summit Task Force, said: “Once we have final agreements with respect to negotiating, the economy will be stimulated. So that collaboration that (Bell) talks about is very important.”

With respect to forestry, Smith said: “We need to find ways of diffusing systemic barriers so we are able to get the wood out of those isolated and remote areas where First Nations are and where there are other tenures.”

The need for partnerships with First Nations was reinforced with respect to potential aquaculture expansion, a sector beset by green lobby protests.

Bell said: “What the community needs to decide…is if they want to go to the wall on aquaculture. I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t. I think the aquaculture industry is a great opportunity. But there has been enormous pressure created by different organizations and groups and individuals that has gone far beyond a few American funders of environmental groups.

“I think if First Nations came forward and said this is something that has enormous potential it could make the list,” the minister said.

Mayor Walter Jakeway said he was very encouraged by Bell’s emphasis on collaboration with First Nations.

“Our city council encourages that and I love partnering with First Nations,” he said.

Jakeway said meetings with representatives of local bands have been ongoing and, as a result of the forum, another round of meetings with local bands is planned for this month.

The mayor also reiterated his desire to have a second, less formal round of local consultations in two or three weeks “to catch the next level, the blue collars … because small business wasn’t really (represented) that much.”