First Nations council upset at beetle funding delay

B.C.’s First Nations Forestry Council said Thursday it is disappointed the federal government removed pine beetle funding from its recent budget.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

The council says it is now placing it’s hope for desperately needed dollars on new federal programs announced as part of the budget last Tuesday. “We are trying to remain optimistic. We are ready to act and are anxious to work with the government to do our part to make its economic stimulus plan a success,” said First Nations Forestry Council president Leonard Thomas. “With tens of thousand of lives and more than $1 billion in infrastructure under threat from the pine-beetle enhanced threat of wildfires, our communities need this funding now and I believe the government realizes this and is ready to help,” said Thomas, a member of the Nak’azdli First Nations northwest of Prince George.

The council said it was not surprised by the government’s move. It’s why they put in a specific request earlier to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for $75 million in assistance in the next three years.

Cariboo-Prince George Conservative MP Dick Harris, the Conservatives’ forestry caucus chair, has said the beetle funding program will be put on hold for the next two years. But he has stressed there will actually be more funding available to communities in northern B.C. than before.

In his budget speech, Flaherty also said the two-year, $1-billion community investment fund would include money for communities impacted by the beetle epidemic.

The First Nations Forestry council said other budget measures that could offer help to communities impacted by the pine beetle include special forestry initiatives, jobs and skills training and alternative energy funds. Last month, Harris has responded unequivocally to claims from the First Nations Forestry Council that beetle funds would be cut off that the Conservative federal government plans to follow through on its $1-billion pledge. He had noted that the remaining funds from the first $200-million pool set aside two years ago was being spent, and he expected more beetle funding to be included in the Jan. 27 budget.

As recently as last summer, Flaherty, the finance minister, had confirmed the $1-billion spending promise, saying in Prince George his government was “absolutely” committed.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper first made the $1-billion promise in 2005, before his party won its first minority government in 2006. Harper made the announcement on the tarmac at the Prince George Airport after he had viewed the effects of the epidemic first hand during a helicopter flight.

Web Link: http://www.fnforestrycouncil.ca/