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Eby talks wildfires, forestry and how Indigenous deal can be a B.C. template

Premier in Campbell River to sign agreement to manage timber in the North Island
Reporter Marc Kitteringham speaks with B.C. Premier David Eby in Campbell River. Photo by Jimmy Smith

When B.C. Premier David Eby walked in to the Starbucks at Quinsam Crossing, he was followed by a coterie of other MLAs, assistants and RCMP.

He sat down after ordering a coffee, and remarked on how nice and new the building looked. It was Eby’s first stop, albeit an unofficial one, on his trip to Campbell River to be part of the official signing of an agreement between the Nanwakolas Council and Western Forest Products to manage timber in the North Island.

“This is a celebration of a really important forestry agreement between Western Forest Products and the local First Nations and its really a template for what we hope to do across the province,” he said.

“Its really a template for what we hope to do across the province: agreements between Nations and forestry supported by the local community where there’s economic development and opportunity and stability particularly for the forest industry, which we know is facing a lot of challenges right now around price and availability of trees.

“So this is exactly what we’re looking for that kind of alignment of interest where the community comes out the net winner and First Nations are recognized and environmental values are protected,” he said.

The signing of the agreement comes after more than 2.84 million hectares of forest and land burned in 2023, and some fires carried on burning through the winter despite the snow. According to a report by the Auditor General of Canada, “because of climate change, forest fires in Canada are expected to get bigger and happen more often. Canada’s forests are becoming a net source of emissions because of forest fires and disturbances caused by insect outbreaks, such as the mountain pine beetle. In some recent years, forest fires and insect disturbances have released over 200 Mt CO2 eq per year to the atmosphere.”

“It’s a pretty dire situation across the province,” Eby said. “There’s a lot of parts of the province in the most extreme level of drought we’ve had a lot of fires burning over the winter under the snow.

“The really remarkable thing about wood products is that they’re part of the climate solutions,” he said. “So instead of using steel or concrete which are very carbon-intensive with products have the potential to sequester carbon as well as reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings and construction. So we’ve really been emphasizing mass-timber construction and developing mass timber industry here in British Columbia.”

RELATED: Shuswap group pleased to see wildfire concerns recognized by B.C. task force

Eby said that so far, over 2,000 people have applied to fight forest fires for the upcoming season. The province recently updated the emergency preparedness act, part of which was discussed in a recently held BC Townhalls Event.

“One of the realities in an emergency … is that people might be away on vacation,” he said. “They might own a property that is a vacation home itself, and they’re not there full-time. It’s very difficult for firefighters to get permission to go on the land and fight the fire to protect those homes. The law has to provide them with a shield to be able to go in and fight the fire … I would be glad for firefighters to go in to any property that I would be so fortunate as to own, to fight a forest fire.”

Wildfire and disaster management is not the only concern on the minds of North Islanders going into the 2024 election season. Eby acknowledged the overdose crisis, the healthcare crisis, affordability and housing, saying that these problems are bigger than even B.C.

“We’re regularly in contact with Alberta, Washington State and other jurisdictions that are dealing with (the opioid crisis) to find out are they trying something that’s working really well and and how can we learn from what they’re doing? And we hope they’re doing the same with us because nobody has found the silver bullet yet.”

Despite some changes in B.C.’s political landscape, Eby’s NDP party is polling ahead with 43 per cent of undecided votes.

“The focus of our government right now is is on the legislative session. We’re in right now about dealing with the issues that are important to British Columbians. We’ll be going with the fixed date election in October,” he said. “We’ll present the direction that we’re going and the progress that we’ve made the piece we put in place. All the big issues are not going to be solved by October.

“I want to under promise and over deliver,” he said, laughing.

Eby posed for a photo outside of the coffee shop, and went back inside to prepare for the next stop on his itinerary.

Through the discussion, Eby had barely touched his coffee.

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Nanwakolas Council, WFP announce ‘Landmark’ forestry agreement

Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Black press in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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