Premier John Horgan met with a handful of northern mayors in Prince George Tuesday to talk about challenges their communities face.
“When we look at the electoral map, these areas are represented by Opposition members, and in no way do I want to diminish the hard work of those members of the legislature, but quite frankly we don’t hear about the positive initiatives that are happening in the community and we don’t hear from them about how we can work constructively to realize change,” Horgan told reporters after a meeting with Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson, Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen, Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall, Mackenzie Mayor Joan Atkinson and Fort St. James Mayor Bev Playfair.
Horgan said building the 20/21 budget is underway for tabling next month and it was critical to meet face-to-face with mayors to help inform budget discussions.
The meeting in Prince George wrapped up a tour that saw the premier meet with leaders in Kitimat, Terrace, Fort St. James and Quesnel.
Topics covered in Tuesday’s meeting included mental health and addictions, homelessness and the forest sector.
“I’m very excited about how we can take back some of the information we shared today,” Horgan said, adding the mayors also gave input on how better the province can make strategic investments to meet changing needs.
Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall described it as an important meeting and said the opioid crisis in Canada was a big crux of the conversation.
“In Prince George, as the northern capital and hub city in the north, we are the recipient of a number of people who require services both on the health side and service side,” Hall said. “I talked about how do we provide those services and how can we get help from the province to provide those services.”
Horgan noted the focus on B.C.’s forestry sector needs to be on maximizing forests rather than shooting to get as much volume as possible out of the forest into mills or onto freighters to somewhere else.
“There are challenges in forestry, we acknowledge that, they are not new. I think it has resulted over decades from a drive to liquidate rather than build a road map that’s sustainable for communities and sustainable for forests,” Horgan said, adding he is very optimistic.
Horgan said the tour was built originally around an invite to the Fort St. James Winter Classic hockey game and was timed around the approval of the business plan for a new hospital in that community.
When asked about declining to meet with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal Gas Link project while he was on the tour, Horgan responded he received the invitation when he returned to work on Monday, Jan. 13, and was not able to fit in a meeting with the hereditary chiefs because the days of the tour were already all full and finalized.
“Last year I spent a day-long session, Minister Donaldson and I, in a smoke house feast at the invitation of Wet’suwet’in hereditary leaders and it was a very full and comprehensive day where I learned a great deal about some of the challenges, not just in respect to pipelines, but in the historic decision of the Supreme Court in the Delgamuukw case,” he said.
Since then, he added, the province has been having almost weekly meetings, government to government, with the office of the Wet’suwet’in and the hereditary leadership to find a way forward on a range of issues.
“To suggest that I and my government have not been available is not the case. Yesterday I sent a letter to the hereditary leadership. They declined a telephone call from me to set a time for a meeting that might be convenient in the future. My letter reiterated what I’ve just said.”