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Save Nelson jobs, RDCK tells BC Hydro

The debate over the future of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program is continuing on several fronts. - Courtesy Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program
The debate over the future of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program is continuing on several fronts.
— image credit: Courtesy Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program

The Regional District of Central Kootenay is joining the chorus of political bodies condemning BC Hydro’s decision to close its Nelson office.

A motion passed by the RDCK Thursday urges the Crown corporation to cancel the layoffs of a handful of scientists of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation program, expected to take effect at the end of the month.

Rural Kaslo director Andy Shadrack noted the changes were announced last October without talking to funding partners, local government, or the public.

Shadrack and Nelson city councillor Deb Kozak expect to meet with the program’s steering committee next month on behalf of the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments, which has already written its own letter of protest.

He says a critical part of the conversation will be about retaining the knowledge, experience, and data held by soon-to-be axed Nelson employees.

“Our request is they come into the Kootenays, where 50 per cent of their power is generated and talk to us about delivery of this program,” he says.

Nelson and Montrose councils have also written to make their opposition to the layoffs known, while over 45 scientists signed a letter decrying the moves.

Hydro says the compensation program will continue to exist with the same funding, but will rely more heavily on community groups to carry out the work.

Although the BC Wildlife Federation believed it had secured a stay of execution, COPE 378, the workers’ union, said this week the layoffs appear set to go ahead as planned.

Further jobs are affected in BC Hydro’s Castlegar and Cranbrook offices, for a total of about a dozen. Cuts are also expected at the program’s office in Prince George.

The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program was established to conserve and enhance habitat affected by BC Hydro dams.

Wildlife fed keeps fighting

The BC Wildlife Federation continued to lobby government this week to preserve compensation program jobs on the chopping block in Nelson, and come up with a new delivery model.

According to an email from federation director Harvey Andrusak, they met with representatives of the ministries of environment and forests on Thursday as well as the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund.

The federation “emphasized the about-to-be-laid-off employees are the first priority and their retention in some form of employment status must be the first issue addressed,” Andrusak wrote.

The federation is proposing the employees be rolled into the Ministry of Forests. They also made it “abundantly clear” BC Hydro shouldn’t both control the program and administer the funds.

Andrusak said everyone agreed a new delivery model is required, and the Ministry of Environment committed to a tight timeline to define what that would look like.

“All agreed we cannot afford to lose these valued employees,” he said, adding they impressed upon the ministry they will continue to apply pressure to see a speedy resolution and won’t tolerate bureaucratic delays.

The federation has another meeting scheduled with Environment Minister Terry Lake and the deputy minister of energy in 10 days, who oversees BC Hydro.

“It was pointed out to Ministry of Environment that there has been no analysis by BC Hydro of alternatives, no cost/benefit analysis, no communication with anyone, no compassion re: the employees and no plan moving forward,” Andrusak wrote. “In my opinion this speaks volumes to BC Hydro’s commitment to ecosystem restoration.”

He added they hope to have the employee issue dealt immediately, and discuss new delivery models in less than two months.

The Wildlife Federation has suggested the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund as a possible third party that could hold the program’s operating funds to protect it from government budget cuts or offloading, but would not be involved in program delivery.

The organization would also have the ability to leverage additional funds. However, it may or may not accept the role, Andrusak indicated.

Move jobs to Kootenay, Dooley says

Nelson mayor John Dooley is calling on BC Hydro to not only preserve jobs in Nelson, but move positions from the Lower Mainland to West Kootenay.

“BC Hydro generates the bulk of its wealth from rural British Columbia, yet retains very few employees here other than those who maintain the infrastructure,” he says.

“In this day and age, I see no reason why companies like BC Hydro can’t have more personnel living and working in our area.”

Dooley adds it would help stimulate the rural economy.

He made a similar proposal a decade ago as a city councillor, soon after the BC Liberals came to power. In an effort to stave off government layoffs, he spearheaded a plan to centralize ministries in places like Nelson.

“We made a very strong case for not only retaining jobs in our region, but building upon them,” he says. However, it fell on deaf ears.

Dooley says while a dozen job losses might have little impact in Vancouver or Victoria, it can be a severe blow to a small community.

Plus, while there’s a good chance pink-slipped workers in a larger city will find other jobs without having to move, that’s less likely here.

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