On Dec. 1, I attended a gala reception in Kitimat, hosted by Rio Tinto Alcan. The occasion was an announcement that the Rio Tinto board of directors have approved $2.7 billion as the last financing needed to build the new smelter and from now on this project is full bore ahead with the smelter to be in operation in 2014.
After 10 years of uncertainty this has to be the best news our region have received since the 1950s when the old smelter was built.
Premier Clark herself was scheduled to attend and announce this great milestone but her plane, after circling the Terrace airport in one of our blinding blizzards, had to return to Victoria.
A highlight of my Kitimat visit was a chart, prominently displayed in Rio Tinto’s office showing that 67 per cent of the project workforce was from the local area (Terrace/Kitimat).
Imagine my surprise when I picked up The Terrace Standard on my way back to New Hazelton and read a three column rant from the local Skeena MLA, Robin Austin.
He accused the government of failing to train northwest workers to fill jobs in the northwest.
He even spotted an out of province licence plate in Kitimat, living proof that northwest workers are being bypassed for northern project jobs.
At the reception I spoke to one of these out of province workers. He had worked and lived in Quesnel most of his life. He was forced to move to Alberta in the late 1990s when the NDP government of the day was working its magic which forced tens of thousands of B.C. workers to flee to Alberta and points east to find work.
He was awful glad to be back in B.C., bringing his specialized skills that are so rare in our region and looking forward to work and settle in our province which had never left his heart.
I also heard some obviously French accents and even some that sounded British or Irish, so it is true, there are strangers in our midst, people who are not from “here”!
Now a $3.4 billion state of the art aluminum smelter is not something we tackle every day. It is not something you throw together with a few local carpenters and unemployed loggers.
It requires an infinite range of specialized engineering, construction, electrical, computer, environmental and hosts of other skills that they don’t teach at the local college nor are likely to.
There seems to be a genuine effort in Kitimat to use local labour wherever possible. The same can be said of our growing mining exploration and the Northwest Transmission Line on Hwy37 North.
I was somewhat disappointed that none of our northwest MLAs or MPs were able to attend this landmark event.
Pete Weeber Sr.,
New Hazelton, BC