Premier John Horgan to meet with Peace officials in Dawson Creek

Premier John Horgan and Forests Minister Doug Donaldson are scheduled to meet with Peace Region officials in Dawson Creek on Monday.

The Regional District board has scheduled a special closed meeting at 11:30 a.m. to meet with the pair, with caribou at the top of the agenda.

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"We’ll see what the premier has got to say," board chair Brad Sperling said.

"We’re hoping to get what we’ve been asking all along: more time to do this properly and the best we can. Time is definitely an issue right now."

The meeting — Horgan’s first visit to Northeast B.C. since becoming premier in 2017 — comes after two weeks of town halls across Northern B.C. collecting public feedback on the province's contentious caribou recovery strategy for the South Peace.

Hundreds have packed halls from Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge, to Mackenzie and Williams Lake, and in between, to voice their anger about the province's lack of consultation with the public and local governments, and fears the strategy will shutter industry and backcountry access in the region. The meetings are set to continue this week starting in Revelstoke on Monday.

The visit is expected to be brief. Horgan will speak with reporters at 1 p.m. about the consultation process.

"I can’t see the premier coming all the way here and not making some kind of statement," Sperling said.

Government and business leaders in the Peace have been pressing the province for months to scrap two agreements being developed with area First Nations and the federal government to help recover caribou herds around Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge.

Included in those agreements are planned restrictions to industrial development in high elevations considered crucial to the survival of the caribou, and looming restrictions to backcountry access. The agreements were drafted without first studying how the restrictions will impact local economies, and without the involvement of local governments.

It's put leaders and residents on high alert, with fears the agreements will lead to up to 500 job losses and a mill closure in Chetwynd, and shutter recreational activities across wide swaths of the backcountry in the region. More than 30,000 people have signed a petition to stop the ongoing negotiations.

The public has been given just a month to provide comment, and the agreements are expected to be signed this summer.

Southern mountain caribou in the region have been listed as a threatened wildlife species under the federal Species At Risk Act since 2003. Last year, the federal government declared the species to be under imminent threat of recovery, starting a year-long timeline to put a recovery strategy in place.

At the annual BC Council of Forest Industries Convention earlier this month, Horgan said B.C. was “late to the dance.”

“This is federal legislation, these are federal edicts that are coming down on land use in various parts in British Columbia that are fundamental to many of the people in this room,” Horgan said.

“So, we’ve been doing our level best to do a bit of catch up, but also remind the federal government they have an obligation not just to those licensees that will be affected, but also the citizens and communities that they operate in.”

Horgan called the strategy a significant challenge being made with good science, but said affected industries and communities have to stand firm on their concerns.

“I don't doubt the science. But, we need to make sure that the consequences of the implementation of this is not so catastrophic that whole communities are going to be shuttered as a result,” Horgan said.

“We need to find a negotiated way through this that meets the need of the wildlife that are affected, but also meets the need of industry and the people that depend on it."

Communities should know they have an “ally,” Horgan said, and he encouraged people to speak up.

“The louder the better. I don’t know how the federal government will respond.”

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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