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Site C, natural gas development linked, Dawson Creek mayor tells Horgan

B.C. Premier John Horgan met with government leaders in Prince George Friday night, but he didn’t tip his hand on the fate of Site C.
Premier John Horgan with Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead and representatives from Prince George, Quesnel, and the Cariboo, Bulkley-Nechako, and Fraser-Fort George regional districts. Via John Horgan/Twitter

B.C. Premier John Horgan met with government leaders in Prince George Friday night, but he didn’t tip his hand on the fate of Site C.

Horgan made a quick stop for a 90-minute roundtable with the mayors from Prince George and Quesnel, as well as politicians from the Cariboo, Bulkley-Nechako, and Fraser-Fort George regional districts. Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead also made an appearance.

The meeting was focused primarily on forestry and forestry health, and the impacts the pine, spruce, and fir beetles, as well as the 2017 wildfire season have had on fibre supply and mill operations, Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson said.

“Part of what we’re pitching to the government is we have an opportunity with the pine beetle, with the fires, with everything going on, to reinvent our industry instead of letting it die away,” said Simpson, who organized the event and invited Horgan.

The meeting was the result of conversations Simpson said he had with Horgan at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver, and in a follow-up meeting in Victoria earlier this fall. Mental health and addictions were also on the agenda.

Bumstead was invited to join in to lend his input on forestry diversifcation happening in Dawson Creek, Simpson said, as well as the oil and gas sector and its contribution to the regional economy. Bumstead said he also spoke about transportation and rail, healthcare, seniors housing—and, of course, Site C.

The now $9-billion dam is part of BC Hydro’s Peace Region Electricity Supply project in the South Peace, needed to meet demands from natural gas exploration and development in the region, Bumstead said he told Horgan.

“That’s an important project. If Site C doesn’t proceed, then that project gets redesigned ... and moves supply of power into the region back another few years,” Bumstead said.

“It’s significant to the development of the sector.”

Horgan met with both his NDP caucus and cabinet last week to deliberate the fate of Site C, now two years into construction and which the BC Utilities Commission says is already over budget and unlikely to be complete by 2024.

His decision is expected by the end of the year, with speculation ramping up that a decision could come down sometime in the next week.

Still, Horgan “didn’t tip his hand at all in terms of Site C” at Friday’s meeting, Bumstead said.

The two also spoke about getting more of B.C.’s natural gas to market, whether it be to tidewater and liquefied natural gas export terminals, or opening up more markets in Eastern Canada, Bumstead said.

Group photo prompts outcry in Fort St. John

Horgan met with officials for about 90 minutes, Simpson said, and flew out later that night.

A photo Horgan posted to Twitter after the meeting stirred outrage in Fort St. John Saturday morning, and the belief he snubbed city officials by not inviting them to the meeting on the eve of arguably the biggest decision of his premiership so far.

"How unfortunate #yxj wasn't invited, is it something we said?" Coun. Trevor Bolin queried in a response tweet to the premier.

That wasn’t the case, according to Simpson.

The meeting was primarily focused on addressing concerns in the “fibre basket” of the region where pulp mills are centralized from Mackenzie through to Quesnel, Simpson said. Bumstead was invited given his relationship with Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall, and to help bridge the divide beyond Mackenzie, Simpson said.

Invitations weren’t extended to Fort St. John, nor were invitations made to Terrace, Smithers, or McBride, Simpson noted.

“At some point, the table gets so big you can’t have a conversation,” Simpson said. “You have to have a meaningful size group.”

“The mayors of Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Hudson’s Hope, they can do the exact same we did,” he added.

“The reality of the current government is they don’t have a lot of time to get out of Victoria. Once the legislature is in session, they almost have no capacity to travel. For Lynn and I, it was about how do we get our issues known so individual communities can speak to them.”

Bumstead gave credit to Horgan for flying up on a Friday night to listen and get a pulse of the concerns facing the north. Horgan noted he had no one in his cabinet from Northern B.C., Bumstead said.

“He needs to have that connection, to have that input from the north,” Bumstead said. “He gave time on a Friday night to engage with us to find out what’s important in the region, and I appreciate the time he took to do that.”

The premier’s office has confirmed it did not organize the meeting and accepted Simpson’s invitation. On Twitter, Horgan said he enjoyed his discussion in Prince George, while thanking Simpson for the invite.

“By no means would we ever leave out the Mayor of Fort St. John,” a spokeswoman said.

It was Horgan's second visit to Prince George since becoming premier and he did not oblige media requests made there.

While local leaders had facetime with Horgan at the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting in September, the premier has yet to visit Northeast B.C., and turned down an invitation to meet with the Peace River Regional District this fall citing scheduling conflicts.

The city has sent two invitations to Horgan since he became premier, though Fort St. John Mayor Ackerman notes those were during the summer wildfires and into the start of the government session in September. 

The region has much to say when it comes to talks about forestry and fibre supply, Fort Nelson in particular, and how the region can contribute, she said. But the optics of being shut out from the dialogue on Friday isn’t sitting well with the community, she said.

“It’s not being well received,” Ackerman said.

“I guess this is a message that when the table gets too big, you can’t have a good conversation.”

Though the premier’s absence from Northeast B.C. is troubling for many, Ackerman wasn’t as fraught as she was until she saw Horgan was able to make it to Prince George on the eve of a Site C announcement.

“We’ll see what his next move is and that will really determine how we are able to work together,” Ackerman said.