Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Premier Clark Boasts about B.C.'S Overall Low Jobless Rate, but Rural Areas Struggle

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Premier Clark Boasts about B.C.'S Overall Low Jobless Rate, but Rural Areas Struggle

Article excerpt

Rural B.C. struggles with unemployment

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VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark often highlights the fact British Columbia has the lowest jobless rate in Canada, but rural and remote areas in the province are struggling with major industry downturns and job losses.

The power of jobs to support families and build strong communities is a major theme in the Liberal leader's bid for re-election on May 9, but some mayors say high unemployment is tearing at the fabric of their communities.

"I would challenge this government to really open its eyes and look at what's going on in our small community," said Shirley Ackland, the mayor of Port McNeill in northern Vancouver Island. "You can't live in the north island if there are no jobs here."

She said sawmill closures have hurt Port McNeill, where 80 per cent of residents are dependent on the forest industry for work.

Merritt Mayor Neil Menard said a sawmill closure and layoffs at another lumber mill resulted in the loss of about 350 jobs in the past 18 months.

"The situation here in this particular area as far as employment is concerned is not good," he said. "I don't think we have the best economy in the country. In the Interior, we've got a lot of struggles going on."

Last month, Clark was in Merritt to introduce the government's rural economic development strategy, which included $40 million to expand high-speed Internet service and build infrastructure in rural B.C.

Steve Thomson, forests, lands and natural resource operations minister, said the government's strategy recognizes the significance of rural communities to B.C.'s economy, mentioning the Site C dam, potential liquefied natural gas projects and the emergence of a technology sector as job creators.

"Every community benefits when our rural communities are strong," he said.

Thomson said the strategy is focused on building, strengthening and diversifying rural economies, which is especially the case with the forest industry and B.C.'s attempts to develop new lumber markets in Asia. A renewed Canada-United States softwood lumber agreement is another top priority, Thomson said.

The government's 2017-18 budget, which was not passed by the legislature, also included an extension to 2020 of an annual $25 million dividend fund for rural community projects. …

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