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MPs chamber address focuses on economic reality

John Weston fan of aquaculture park proposal

Addressing ongoing concerns regarding ferry cutbacks, and acknowledging a continued commitment to ensure ongoing economic initiatives aren’t lost in the shuffle when electoral boundaries are re-aligned, were both key points of focus during MP John Weston’s visit to the Powell River Chamber of Commerce luncheon, January 8.

As expected, Weston, who represents West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding, addressed the issue of ferry cancellations and offered to act as a conduit between local representatives and the federal government.

When asked about a federal subsidy for ferries on the east coast of Canada, Weston acknowledged that a fixed subsidy for some ferry services there was a conditional provision put in place when the affected provinces signed on to confederation. “The federal subsidy in the east has been fixed for years,” he said. “There is a constitutional provision that relates to the province’s entrance into confederation, whereas the west coast subsidy is a legislative matter.”

Weston advised that the matter could be addressed during a telephone conference he hoped to arrange between the federal Minister of Transportation Lisa Raitt, Powell River Regional District chair Colin Palmer and City of Powell River Mayor Dave Formosa. “I feel my job is to open the doors and then the people who are really familiar with the issues here and who are using the ferries here in Powell River can then raise the issue with federal representatives.”

Weston also said that he would continue to push for opportunities to develop Powell River’s new economic reality, something he has been working closely with the city, Tla’amin (Sliammon) First Nation, and local businesses to develop.

At the top of the list was the proposed closed containment aquaculture industry, which Weston said could be a major economic driver. The proposal for the aquatic industries park, on about 40 hectares of undeveloped waterfront land owned by PRSC Partnership Ltd., next to Catalyst Paper Corporation’s Powell River division, was presented to Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in September 2013. A number of aquaculture companies producing a wide range of sea life, including salmon, shellfish, black cod, sturgeon, algae and sea cucumber, expressed an interest in being part of the facility.

“An aquaculture industry in Powell River would serve to protect wild salmon stocks, provide opportunity for secondary industry markets in research, education opportunities, and a valued food source that could be used in countries where obtaining a consistent, protein-rich food source is problematic,” said Weston. “It’s an industry that is perfectly tailored to Powell River. Canada needs a centre for excellence in the aquaculture industry to provide leadership.”

Weston explained that the available land in Powell River, and the fact that there are good relations between the city and Tla’amin, are key among circumstances that make it a natural choice for the industry. “Powell River is also in close proximity to Asian markets and has access to cheap power,” he said. “The Vancouver Island University campus here in Powell River may play a role and Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo has a leading Sturgeon Research facility as well.

“If you develop a community around the industry and there is market viability and good marketing practices, if we get good at it, Powell River is perfectly positioned to take the lead.”

Weston also spoke to the fact that employment opportunities for youth in Powell River have been dwindling. “Part of positioning Powell River to move into the future and create new economic models is in accessing international markets for products we are uniquely positioned to provide.”

The prevalence of historical architecture and Townsite’s designation as a national historic district, will help put Powell River on the map in terms of international tourism. Opportunities in ecotourism, the emerging focus on fine arts and cottage industry in the community, will also play a large role as the community continues to reinvent itself and shape its new economic reality.