Over the course of the just-finished legislative session, resource workers in the North Island-Powell River riding have had to rethink the way they do business.
Almost at the beginning of the session, the federal government announced the closure of fish farms in the Discovery Islands, putting hundreds of jobs at risk and changing the industrial make-up of North Island communities. That was followed by increased pressure from Old Growth-defenders on the province to change how forestry is done in B.C. Protesters took to the streets in towns like Campbell River on all sides, building tension amongst the people who live and work in these communities.
Though these issues are leaving local workers in limbo, North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney says that there are alternatives that can make sure these skilled workers can still feed their families and help transition to a new, greener economy.
“One of the things that I put forward in Parliament was Motion 53 where I talked about resource-based rural communities and the fact that the economy in the world is changing,” she said. “We need to stop leaving these communities behind and have them be part of the response. We need to see some resources coming into our areas that help us with this transition.”
“One of the things that frustrates me is that a lot of these resource-based economies historically have built this country,” she added. “They built the country and yet things change and we have to change with it, and then we get forgotten.”
During the recent legislative session, Blaney has been working with economic development Minister Mélanie Joly to ensure that a BC Economic Development office is built in a North Island community, making sure the voices of the north island are heard in Ottawa.
“We need to remember the people who work in these positions and make sure that they get support as we transition into something new,” she said. “We need to listen to them.”
There are real risks for workers and employers in the north island. One of which is that if people move away from the area for work, there’s a real chance they may not be able to afford to move back.
“I’ve talked to so many businesses that are trying to hire people, and there’s nowhere for people to live. If they’re trying to hire people from away, they have nowhere to move,” she said. “It’s pretty startling to me there’s young folks who make a pretty good income and cannot put money away to buy a house because the rent is so high. If they actually could put together their down payment their mortgage would be lower than the rent they’re paying. They’re in this Catch-22.”
The face-off between decisions based on environmental protection and resource workers is not strictly a B.C. problem. Blaney has been hearing from oil and gas workers in Alberta who are willing to apply their skills to more environmentally-friendly industries.
“There are some amazing oil and gas workers in Alberta that have done some fantastic work saying ‘here’s our skill-set. If we move in this direction towards a greener, more environmentally sustainable future, here’s where we can transfer our skills.’ Those are the areas I’m interested in having conversations in,” she said. “If we don’t get serious about it, we’re going to keep having this kind of weather. We’re burning more forests in our province, and where is it going to end?”
“When I think about our history as human beings, we change when we put significant investments in things and when we open up our creativity,” Blaney added. “What are the innovations that we have across the world to help us deal with this climate crisis?”