Mackenzie residents are gathering for an afternoon rally today, hoping political leaders invited to speak can offer hope to the troubled community north of Prince George.
"We would like our logs to stop leaving the community, we would like our sawmills to be able to run and you know, the bottom line is we'd like them to change the legislation so logs have to stay in the community and be milled here," Kim Guthrie, chair of the Mackenzie Matters rally, said.
"We have a small community here that keeps shrinking and how do we keep towns like this surviving and thriving and being sustainable when we keep losing our ability to maintain," she said. "We're hoping he comes up with some good news they've been working on in the background."
The Canfor sawmill in Mackenzie was put on an "indefinite curtailment" July 19, a few days later the Conifex facility was on temporary curtailment and then because it couldn't get the wood from local mills. Parallel 55, which is a finger joint mill shut down, too. It's a trickle-down effect, Guthrie, a notary public, said.
"There's also indirect job loss for other businesses in the community," she added. "We've already had lay-ffs at the grocery store and small businesses like mine."
Guthrie said when she moved to Mackenzie 30 years ago there were three elementary schools and a high school, a dentist, a chiropractor, an eye doctor, two grocery stores and three gas stations.
Now there is one elementary school, a high school, doctors, but no dentist, no chiropractor, and only one grocery store and one gas station.
"I drive down my street and there's houses for sale here, there and everywhere because young families are having to go - you know you can't blame them. It might be too simple to change the legislation but they did it in 2003. I just get so frustrated watching the logging trucks drive out of our community. Our mills aren't running and we see people having to leave. We're not just faced with what's going on in the forest industry, we have issues with our lake level and the Caribou recovery plan. It feels like we're getting slammed on every side."
The rally, scheduled to start at noon, was organized by members of the community that were spurred into action.
"Something's got to be done," Guthrie said. "We can't just sit back and watch our community go down the tubes."
One of the many speakers to attend Thursday's rally is Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, who serves as the B.C. Liberals critic on Forest, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.
"The forest sector has been reeling for most of this year, if not longer," he said.
The extensive curtailments of sawmills and how Fort St. James has declared a financial state of emergency is unprecedented, he said. Mackenzie has already seen a really tough time in the mid-2000s during the last time the forest sector took a big downturn, he added.
"Mackenzie knows what it's like," he said. "They know forestry is a big part of their future and they want to fight for it. They want to raise the level of awareness and hopefully they'll get some attention from different levels of government that will be able to help them with their issues and that's what this rally is all about."
Rustad said the forestry issues were raised to the NDP government in the legislature last fall and again in the spring.
"They have ignored this financial forestry crisis for many months," Rustad said.
Just recently a letter was sent to the federal government, he added.
"So, quite frankly, I believe they will blame the federal government for not coming to the table but they could have sent that letter months ago, which is what we had asked them to do back in June," he said. "So what I'm hoping is that perhaps the federal government has put out a package that the provincial government will be able to announce. I'm hopeful that something like that could happen because now the province is actually engaged. "I would like to see the provincial government step up with a package to help communities like Fort St. James and Mackenzie to help the workers and contractors who are being hit so hard."
Other speakers at the rally include fellow Liberal MLAs Mike Morris and Donna Barnett, Mackenzie mayor Joan Atkinson, MP Bob Zimmer, Peter Ewert of Stand up for the North, regional district rep Pat Crook, Vince Lucas from Unifor, Tony Zabinsky who is acting mayor of Ft. St. John, Dale Bumstead, mayor of Dawson Creek, Mike Whalley from the Resource Municipalities Coalition and Northern Coalition, United Steelworkers, Cam Shiel from the Forest Stewardship Council, Andy Barnes a councillor for the District of Mackenzie, and Gary Fiege and Todd Smith for Public and Private Workers of Canada (PPWC).
First Nations representatives were invited to attend as well.
Doug Donaldson, the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, also attending the rally
Donaldson has agreed to speak but there won't be a question and answer period, Guthrie said.
"It's my hope that's he's going to give us some hope," she said.