There is not enough employment for the victims of the Babine Forest Products explosion in the eyes of Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.
"As of [Wednesday], there are a total of 93 of the displaced workers currently employed [in outside positions]. That is down from a month ago, due to the Endako Mine layoffs," Bell said Friday morning on the six-month anniversary of the fatal blast. "In addition to those re-employed, another 23 continue to work [for Hampton Affiliates, owners of Babine mill] so we have a total of 116 individuals currently working."
In addition, Bell said, another 44 are on some form of disability or workers' compensation program.
"That leaves about 100 people currently displaced and that is a real concern to me," Bell said. "I'm not happy with where we are at in terms of overall employment. We will have to do some more work in that area...People in Burns Lake deserve the very best we can provide."
He itemized some of the economic recovery steps taken so far, including the acceleration of some provincial infrastructure projects that were already in the pipeline of consideration, including the newly announced rebuild of the Burns Lake hospital and the construction of a Recreation Centre annex between the town's hockey and curling buildings for a total of $17.4 million.
The government's main hopes are still attached to Hampton Affiliates rebuilding and reopening Babine Forest Products.
Hampton officials have said they are waiting to know how much timber BC's chief forester is going to allocate to them. Due to the heavy effects of the mountain pine beetle in the Lakes District, the forest may not have enough sellable trees near to the destroyed mill to warrant the huge investment required for a rebuild.
"We have not in any way given up on this mill and I think there is a very real chance for it," said Bell. "I think there is a good opportunity for the reconstruction of a new mill in Burns Lake."
According to Bell, progress has been made in the development of economic stimulation initiatives for Burns Lake.
Two of the town's main brownfields - a pair of former gas stations on the town's main drag - are in the latter stages of negotiations for redevelopment, with help from the provincial government and the landowners.
The province, municipality and local First Nations are consulting together on a downtown revitalization plan, including a sculpture project already underway featuring carvings of Aboriginal clan icons.
This coincides with a tourism development plan also being implemented for the Lakes District, co-designed by Tourism BC. "The Village of Burns Lake is already taking action on some of those ideas," Bell said. He also urged anyone interested to attend northern BC's premier mountain biking event, the Big Pig Bike Fest on Burns Lake's Boer Mountain from Aug. 17 to 19.
The village won a grant from the Union of BC Municipalities to do more wildfire mitigation work, adding some jobs and community safety.
The Northern Development Initiative Trust also provided a "suppliers boot camp" to Burns Lake to help secondary and complimentary industries negotiate the effects of the blast on other elements of Lakes District business.
A job fair was held that resulted in some emergency employment for displaced Babine workers initially and Bell wondered if another might be a good idea.
He also stressed that agriculture might play a pivotal role in the Lakes District's recovery, especially as the region switches to farming and ranching purposes from forestry.
The Village of Burns Lake is in the process of recruiting an economic development officer, which Bell was looking forward to seeing, to augment the work already done by economic development teams that have been examining the town's fiscal needs and resources.