Friday, July 03, 2015

Where's the Cash, Stephen? Harper Gov't's Missing $800 Million

Harper government and the missing $800 million pledged to BC Interior communities

by Peter Ewart  - 250 News

July 3, 2015

In the lead up to the 2006 federal election, the pledge to the communities of the BC Interior was unmistakable. “Conservative leader Stephen Harper announced earlier this week a long-term commitment of $1 billion to battle the pine beetle devastation”, the news stories read. But Harper also had a warning. The funds would be forthcoming only “if his party were to win the next federal election.”1

Harper, who was then in Opposition, scoffed at the federal Liberal government’s funding contribution of just $140 million to address the pine beetle problem, dismissing it as “paltry.” He further said that “B.C.s forestry communities need help and so far they haven’t received the assistance you would expect from a federal government.”

The Harper Conservatives then went on to win the 2006 election. After the election, BC Interior communities were assured by Cariboo-Prince George Conservative MP Dick Harris that his government would make good on its pine beetle funding commitments, claiming “that’s the attitude we want to bring to government – if you say something, you’d better be prepared to back it up.”2

Fast forward to 2015. The pine beetle has wiped out most of the region’s lodge pole pine forests and the forest industry is suffering a severe timber shortage. More mill closures and cutbacks loom on the horizon for communities like Quesnel, Williams Lake, 100 Mile House and Prince George, all of which, over many decades, have provided lucrative revenues for both the federal and provincial governments, as well as corporate interests. Now these highly productive wood manufacturing centres face extremely difficult times.

So, what about the Harper government’s $1 billion funding promise to the region which was supposed to be released at a rate of $100 million a year for ten years? Where does it stand now? Unfortunately, something happened not long after the 2006 election. Only two installments (amounting to $200 million) were actually paid out before the tap was turned off and the funding was folded into other programs. In other words, $800 million is still owed.

Given the scale of the pine beetle destruction, this $200 million doesn’t look much different than what Harper called the former Liberal government’s “paltry” amount of $140 million. So much for receiving the assistance you would expect from a federal government. And so much for the Conservatives backing up their promises.

This issue has been raised before in 250 News,3 as well as by the Stand Up for the North Committee, Quesnel mayor Bob Simpson, and others in the region. Now, Prince George City Council and the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako have passed a resolution calling on the federal government to pay up the $800 million still owing. As city councilor Albert Koehler has said, “we would like to have [the funding] flowing through the north somehow.”4

This resolution is a positive development and should be supported by everyone in the region, irrespective of their politics. And it, as well as what communities can do to grapple with this looming crisis, should be made a major federal election issue.

A promise is a promise.

Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at:

1. “Harper commits $1billion.” Kamloops This Week. Sept 16, 2005
2. Prince George Free Press. May 5, 2006.
3. Ewart, Peter. “Conservative MPs … What about the promised $1 billion in pine beetle funding?” 250 News. August 29, 2012.…+what+about+the+promised+$1+billion+in+pine+beetle+funding%3F?id=&st=30
4. Macdonald–Meisner, Elaine. “Call for Feds to deliver promised funding.” June 30, 2015.

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