de Jong promises to headquarter forests ministry in Prince George

Beginning with the province's chief forester, B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Mike de Jong says he will make relocating the main offices of the forests and lands ministry to Prince George a top priority if he becomes premier.

"How about locating the ministry to where actual commercial forestry is actually taking place?" de Jong said Thursday morning during a low-key media event at Kordyban Lodge.  "If it's government for the people, how about government with the people?" 

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Some 13 years to the day, a pilot project was launched that saw chief forester Jim Snetsinger working out of an office at the University of Northern B.C, de Jong noted. But the move was not made permanent.

"This will require direction from the very top," de Jong said. "The institutional bias in favour of Victoria or Vancouver is very, very strong."

Keeping the B.C. Lottery Corporation headquarters in Kamloops "required ministerial intervention," he added.

Moving the offices to Prince George would bring 50 to 75 jobs with it, depending on which branches are moved. He remains a supporter of the Site C project.

"If the NDP government is serious about writing off a $4-billion investment, that would be irresponsible on a scale that we haven't seen from even previous NDP governments," de Jong said.

Asked what the Liberals need to do to regain its hold in the Lower Mainland, where it effectively lost the last election, the MLA for Abbotsford West, emphasized housing availability and said he supports legislating a timeline for deciding whether to approve a project.

"There's 120,000 units of housing awaiting approval in Metro Vancouver," de Jong said. "Well, let's get on with it, let's make some decisions within 10 months."

Former Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Pat Bell made it clear he supports de Jong. In introducing him, Bell credited de Jong for developing an export market to China for B.C. lumber and noted five balanced budgets were achieved during de Jong's tenure as finance minister.

"Mike has my full support," Bell said. "I absolutely believe he can be the type of dynamic leader with the vision necessary."

Candidates will be in Prince George on Saturday for a debate. It's open to the public, free of charge, and will be held at the Coast Inn of the North, 10:30 a.m. start.

Under the format for deciding who will be leader, candidates earn votes based on the percentage of support they earn in each riding. It gives each constituency equal weighting regardless of the number of members signed up. The winner will be decided in February.

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