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OP/ED: East vs. West in the Boundary a divisive approach to economic development

Over the past five years there has been an ebb and flow of interest in the concept of working together as a region to achieve more. But the recent creation of a new sawmill in Midway has drawn some clear lines politically declaring war between communities and forestry companies within our small area.
 
With a relatively small population, it seems logical that the Boundary approach development as a group leveraging what limited resources we have to the benefit of all. Operating in isolation doesn’t seem to have won the day in the past so one would think the political will would be focused on joint ventures.
 
The Boundary Sawmill (BSI) initiative though has created a rift in regional collaboration. Perhaps the rift had started prior to the efforts of this company to get going, but its development has certainly dug the hole deeper. Competition for timber rights will pit the communities against each other as Midway and Grand Forks look to protect supply and jobs.
 
Recently, BSI critiqued International Forest Products Ltd.’s (Interfor) sale of timber to Okanagan-based Tolko. These comments attempted to show that Interfor is not using its timber licence, and that they are demonstrating poor community allegiance by selling Boundary wood outside the area.
 
Maybe so. It’s never great to see our wood moving out of the region to the benefit of someone else’s jobs while our mills struggle.
 
On the other hand, markets have been bad and to meet minimum cutting allowances Interfor likely had to take some action - perhaps a provincial regulation needs changing? Markets are so bad this year local woodlot owners are not even cutting their timber, are we pointing fingers at them for not supporting local mills?
 
And is this just the pot calling the kettle black?
 
While Interfor ships their timber to the Okanagan, Midway’s mill has been set up to supply an American company with the lumber they need to fill their markets. The processing done in Midway is limited to sawing the timber only, the minimum needed to ship the lumber over the border with low Softwood Lumber Tariffs while not being shipped as raw timber.
 
Vaagen Brothers Ltd. of Colville probably could not have accessed raw Canadian timber without a corporate presence in Canada. So BSI created an opportunity for a small workforce to exist in Midway enabling the shipment of timber to the States.
 
How different are these two forest companies in their actions?
 
The Boundary Economic Development Commission, at least on the outside, was tasked three years ago with moving the Boundary forward as a whole. But the political connection at the BEDC seems to have broken down once again. The Commission could be seen as a unifying force working through differences with these companies for the betterment of the area.
 
West Boundary politicians jumped at the chance to promote their “good deeds” in resurrecting the mill in Midway to their constituents, but has the commission’s table really been a cohesive unit if some improvements in the regional economy are matched by losses somewhere else? Are the local politicians using their clout to enlist their provincial level colleagues for the benefit of the whole or just pieces of the area?
 
Could they not see themselves as the liaison to help both parties succeed? Can a regional group afford to be seen to favour one area or company over another? Or is this just one more indication that they can’t play together in the sandbox?
 
In a meeting this week with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier, Mr. John Les, he asked the community to comment on how to create jobs and improve the economy in this region. One key question was posed: is there a map for the region that lays out direction for the development of the area? If there is it is kept well hidden and actions by the members of the BEDC indicate they are not following the map if it is there.
 
While a mill is created in the West Boundary, Chinese investors are looking for land to grow garlic in Grand Forks. Who is the coordinating body pulling this all together? Community Futures Boundary is tasked with the work of the BEDC, but their efforts follow direction set by the commission. If the commission isn’t working as east vs. west attitudes abound, what is our direction for the economy? 

As we come into election season, the quality of our economic development process should be a key issue for the entire region and one that should be asked of all candidates who could have an impact. Are we going to keep competing – taking from one community to give to another – or will the politicians finally admit they need to get along and work together? Interesting days ahead…