B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson is accusing the governing New Democrats of lacking a plan to guide the region - and the forest sector in particular - through the looming economic turmoil.
"What's the five-year plan in terms of where the economy is going to be?" Wilkinson said during a question and answer session with local media. "Because we're in the midst of a lot of change here."
He said such a plan should be drafted in anticipation of future industrial development and the changes that are occurring in the forest industry.
"We all have the legitmiate question of what's going to happen to all of these graduates going through the system now and who are their employers going to be because it's not going to be the same as it is today," Wilkinson said.
"Will they be working for LNG Canada? Will they be working for Coastal GasLink? Will they be working for a new industry, like petrochemicals? We don't know and it would be helpful to get some sense from the provincial government of what their goals are for this part of the world."
He accused the NDP of relying on "band aid programs" to ease the blow for the forest sector.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson was in Prince George in September to announce a $69-million package for displaced sawmill workers. It drew Liberals' ire because $25 million came from delaying by a year programs funded through the Rural Dividend Fund.
Ministry of Forests parliamentary secretary Ravi Kahlon was in Prince George and Quesnel on Wednesday to make announcements that included grants to allow loggers to retrieve slash that would otherwise have been burned and transport it to area pulp mills and bioenergy plants.
Wilkinson said the NDP is scrambling to make ends meet in the face of a budget deficit of their own making by focusing on "some very expensive programs" and "living off the prosperity the B.C. Liberals generated."
"And now that prosperity is slowing down and they don't seem to have any plan whatsoever for job creation or industrial growth, apart from LNG [liquified natural gas] which is a Liberal initiative."
In an emailed response, Jobs, Trade and Technology Minister Bruce Ralston emphasized the province's and the region's economic performance, saying in part that B.C.'s economy leads the nation in growth and is forecast to continue to do so for the next two years.
Ralston also said 2,300 more people are working in the Cariboo region than a year ago and noted that Prince George was named the second-best city in Western Canada to invest for 2020 by Western Investor,
"Key to our success has been securing the $40-billion investment from LNG Canada, which is expected to create7,000 construction jobs and has already hired more than 1,000 people on or near the site," Ralston said. "Our plan is to continue to build off our strong economy and make sure it’s working for everyday people.”
Wilkinson is on a tour that has also taken him to Kamloops, Williams Lake and Quesnel. He will be in Surrey on Friday.
"I'm trying to get out to every corner of the province as much as possible," he said. "Unless you're on the ground in these communities, you get a very distorted view of what's going on. We have to actually get out and meet people and look them in the eye and understand their concerns and their issues and our fundamental concern is that our forest minister and our labour minister and Premier Horgan are nowhere to be seen in these communities."
Donaldson is on a trade mission to China and Japan. Horgan was last in Prince George in April to announce the opening of the new drop-in health clinic at Parkwood Mall and Bains was in Prince George in September for Donaldson's announcement.