There’s been a significant shift in the way the provincial government is engaging us with respect to economic development and diversification. In the past, when a mill closed, a team of bureaucrats were flown in to educate us about what government programs were available to help us. For the most part these were programs we had either already taken advantage of or had unsuccessfully applied to for assistance. The same approach was taken by the province when we were designated a “pilot transition community” out of the blue. In both cases, nothing of lasting substance came out of this top down approach. Now, however, we’re actively engaged with the provincial government, often with direct access to the responsible Minister, in shaping the way the province comes to our assistance and the way it marshals its resources to help us find our own unique opportunities to develop and diversify our economy.
The clearest illustration of this different approach can be seen in our post-wildfire recovery efforts. These efforts have been led by local recovery managers (in Quesnel’s case a wildfire recovery team) and we’ve helped to shape both the Province’s and the Red Cross’ assistance to businesses and individuals impacted by last summer’s wildfires. As we get ready to submit final reports for these recovery initiatives we’re hopeful the Province will make changes to the way it helps communities recovery after major catastrophic events based on our recommendations. We’re also hopeful we’ll see the Province step up and provide us with some of the longer term supports we need to manage our way through this transition period.
As part of the Province’s initial wildfire response, the Minister of Agriculture visited Quesnel to tour Alex Fraser Park (where we hosted 1200 evacuated animals), fly over the fire ravaged area west of Quesnel, and meet with our Agriculture community to discuss both wildfire impacts and the future potential of agriculture in the North Cariboo. Since that meeting we’ve been in constant dialogue with the Minister and her staff, exploring opportunities to enhance agriculture’s contribution to our sub-regional economy and ways the Province can best assist us to achieve our goals.
Last week, two staff from the Ministry of Agriculture flew in to Quesnel to meet with representatives of our agriculture sector and to tour both the CNC/UNBC Campus and Alex Fraser Park. The Ministry staff listened to and gave advice on a proposal, developed by our local agriculture advisory group, that would see new investments in Alex Fraser Park to improve this facility’s ability to promote and enhance agriculture in our region and to host animal evacuees in the future. The proposal would also see Quesnel become a regional center for agriculture education and training and a regional food innovation hub. This proposal will be formally submitted to the Minister in the coming weeks.
We’ve also had a similar back and forth dialogue with the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources and Rural Development (FLNRORD) and his staff. Quesnel played host to one of the Ministry’s roundtables on the future of rural development during which local stakeholders were able to give Ministry staff advice on the best ways to assist communities like ours to develop and diversify their economies. Quesnel is also one of two pilot communities for an initiative that looks at how we can better use provincial and federal statistics to refine our economic development strategies. In early May, we will host a future of forestry think tank at our Quesnel Campus.
All in all, we are enjoying a very different, more productive relationship with the Province than we have in the past.