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‘All hat, no horse’

Dene Moore: For Rural BC, the TV leaders’ debate didn’t touch on the issues that affect them most.

My grandpa would have called it all hat and no horse.

The leaders’ debate this week didn’t shed much light on how those who want to lead this province for the next for years would do it, but then I guess there’s never much debate in a political debate.

Candidates were asked about issues ranging from senior care to housing affordability, taxation to racial diversity. They had only a minute or two to respond; it did not deliver any real insight, and was not designed to.

For B.C. beyond the 604, there wasn’t much reason to tune in.

Once the economic heartbeat of the province, now an industry in sharp decline, forestry didn’t merit much of a mention except in questions on the environment. Forget agriculture, mining, or any other resource industry.

Metro issues ruled the day.

So we have to rely on the party platforms available online (BC Green Party; BC Liberals; BC NDP), though it’s arguable whether they offer all that much more detail.

The B.C. Liberal platform is the only one to address the crisis in forestry, acknowledging the loss of more than 10,000 jobs. The Liberals say they will:

  • revise the stumpage system to help keep the industry more competitive.
  • work with industry to reduce costs for producers
  • press the federal government for a lasting resolution to the ever-present softwood lumber dispute with the U.S.
  • increase investments in silviculture though no figure is provided
  • support development of mass timber structural products for use in construction
  • pass legislation to designate and protect the working forest

For rural communities the Liberals promise, among other things:

  • to reinstate the $25-million Rural Dividend Fund that was redirected to the NDP’s relief package for unemployed mill workers last year
  • to establish a northern Premier’s Office in Prince George
  • to expand high-speed broadband and mobile coverage in rural and remote communities

The word forestry, unfortunately, is not mentioned in the BC NDP platform. The NDP does, though, commit to:

  • preserving old-growth forests as recommended by the Old Growth Strategic review
  • investing in silviculture and planting more trees to revitalize forests
  • work with industry and labour to dedicate a specific portion of the annual allowable cut to higher-value producers that show they will create jobs

The NDP also promises a Mining Innovation Hub to support innovation, offer training in new technologies, and encourage low-carbon extraction.

The BC Green Party, surprisingly to me, has the most detailed plan for the province’s forestry sector, focussing on biodiversity and a shift from corporate to First Nations and community tenure.

Among two dozen forestry promises, the Green Party says it would:

  • appoint a Chief Scientist to manage provincial forests in conjunction with the Chief Forester
  • put an end to raw log exports
  • preserve old growth

In much of B.C. outside the 604, agriculture is a way of life – but one that’s getting harder and harder to maintain.

When it comes to agriculture, the NDP say they will:

  • introduce a Regenerative Agricultural Network to encourage new technologies like robotics, precision farming and mesh networks to increase food security, job creation and sustainability
  • expand the Grow, Feed and Buy BC programs with new worker training, land acquisition support and new processing hubs
  • offer unspecified support for agri-tech through the federal-provincial Agri-Innovation Program, as well as unspecified protections for the Agricultural Land Reserve lands

A BC Liberal government promises:

  • a Trespass Act to protect farming properties
  • reforms to the Agricultural Land Commission to, among other things, restore the ability to build secondary residences on farm land
  • to reduce obstacles to recruitment of skilled and semi-skilled labour
  • to ensure access to water for crops and livestock
  • to make the province’s agriculture industry more self-sufficient and sustainable, though how they will do that is not explained

Again, the BC Greens provide the most detailed platform on agriculture and food security. Sure, there is no chance they will have to deliver but it’s heartening to see it as a priority.

The BC Greens would:

  • provide incentives to encourage ecological farming practices
  • province support for carbon-reduction technologies
  • restrict foreign ownership of agricultural lands in B.C. (a measure that other provinces have in place)

The debate did serve an important purpose: it was not a gong show. We can all rest assured that no matter how votes are cast on Oct. 24, B.C. wins with a premier and opposition leaders who are intelligent and articulate.

And if the American electoral dumpster fire has taught us anything, we should thank each of them for that.

Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.