Diversification key to Cariboo North future

Like most ridings, the election in Cariboo North will be largely decided on the issue of the economy.

The riding municipalities have been largely reliant on the lumber industry but there is also economic spinoff from nearby mining work, agriculture and tourism.

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Continuing to focus heavily on forestry won't help the riding to grow, according to the three provincial candidates.

NDP candidate Duncan Barnett said he doesn't want to see the government put all their economic eggs in one basket.

"We have a wealth of natural resources in this province and they're all prone to economic cycles - they ebb and flow," Barnett said. "And I think we had over the last few years, a government that is just sort of focused on which one is making money. It's like the the golden goose."

Liberal contender Coralee Oakes agrees that economic diversification is key.

"Where are the jobs going to be? Because we all know that with the mountain pine beetle and the economy in the United States and the wood fibre and all those issues we've got to find new jobs," she said.

"In Cariboo North, the question of what does our future hold economically is of course a large one because we are in the heart of the mountain pine beetle and it's nice that the U.S. lumber market has come back but there's still very significant questions about the future of the forest industry," said Independent incumbent Bob Simpson.

Going hand in hand with economic issues for Oakes are making sure families, especially seniors, are taken care of.

"So we need to ensure families have good paying jobs, that they're staying in our communities, that we're attracting investment and that our small business economy's healthy," she said.

Social ministries can't be tossed aside in the drive towards financial prosperity, added Barnett, who acknowledged that people may look at the NDP as having too much of a focus on social issues.

"I don't really think you can have too much focus," he said, citing the human element as the province's top resource. "You've got to spend the dollars wisely but you have to invest in our people and you have to give people the opportunities to get up that ladder to success."

When the polls close May 14, the winner will represent nearly 33,000 constituents over a large territory.

Cariboo North was first contested in 1991, rising from the ashes of the dismantled Cariboo and Omenica ridings during the late 1980s electoral boundary redistribution.

It stretches between Tweedsmuir and Cariboo Mountains provincial parks, with the majority of the population centred in Quesnel and featuring the tourism hotspots of Barkerville, Wells and Bowron Lakes.

First snapped up by the NDP, it was turned over to the Liberals in 1996 and held until 2005 when Simpson - running under the NDP flag - beat out Liberal Bruce Ernst by a little more than 500 votes.

If it's a close race, the successful candidate will likely be the one who can corner Quesnel.

In 2009, the majority of the NDP's support was concentrated in the urban areas, with Simpson taking the lead in all but 10 of the polling stations in the city and its immediate surroundings. The NDP also grabbed the votes from Wells, the Cariboo Regional District and squeaked ahead in the northernmost portion of the city of Williams Lake that is in the riding.

The Liberals were the pick for areas such as Likely, Horsefly, Ten Mile, Five Mile, Carpenter Mountain and the residents surrounding the Williams Lake Airport.

With a voter turnout a little better than 60 per cent, the riding bucked the trend sweeping the rest of the province, described by chief electoral officer Harry Neufeld in his final report on the 39th general election as a "historic low."

Only 51 per cent of B.C.'s eligible voters cast a ballot in 2009.

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