Madam Chair, I am pleased to speak to the issue of the federal government's action plan with regard to the mountain pine beetle epidemic in western Canada. I believe this currently is one of the biggest challenges to the strength of the B.C. economy. It is for that reason that I was pleased to meet the Premier of British Columbia last week and to meet with the B.C. ministry of forests a few weeks before that.
It is sad for me to hear in the debate tonight that all the opposition is doing is trying to play politics on a very important issue that affects our province of British Columbia.
It is amazing. This issue has been dear to my heart, even before I was re-elected to the House of Commons. As a private citizen I was so concerned about this issue that I took the initiative to contact our colleagues in the government in B.C and to call the minister himself and meet with him. Before I became a member of Parliament I met many times with the minister to talk about this issue.
It is amazing that the opposition members, even though they know it is such an important issue and have been long time members of the House, have not initiated a call to the minister to deal with it. What is wrong with members of Parliament representing those ridings raising the issue with the minister in charge?
Instead they play politics. They just call the political minister in B.C. and say that they have done their job and that they have asked questions in the House. Instead of seriously asking for a meeting to debate the issue and perhaps come up with some proposals to the minister, they did not. They try to confuse the issue about this plan.
The government under the leadership of the Liberal Party has been on top of this issue since 2002. It has been in consultations with the provincial government and they have come up with a plan. We are working on it with a $40 million project to help alleviate the problem. They want to mix that up. If they are talking about this plan that we initiated back in 2002 or in the 1999 period, of course there is a plan.
However when we talk about a new plan, I met the premier last week. He has a plan for mitigation. He asked that we all work together to support the provincial government in finding new solutions. Maybe forest fires can come back again. There is a plan for that but there is not a plan to fight the pine beetle. Everybody knows that the way to fight the pine beetle is either to deforest them or we wait for the cold weather.
If the opposition member has a plan we would like to see it. He claims that the provincial government has come up with a plan and that we have ignored it. The allegation all night long has been that the provincial government has a plan that asks for our support and yet we have denied it the opportunity. That is not true.
They are playing politics. Ever since 2002 we have had a $40 million initiative to try to help with this issue. It was announced in October 2002 and a major program was designed to directly assist the efforts of private woodlot operators to work on beetle control and on post-beetle rehabilitation of their forest lands.
As I indicated, I am interested in drawing the attention of the House to the support of British Columbia's private land owners in this very important area.
In addition, the mountain pine beetle initiative provides assistance for beetle control and forest rehabilitation on first nations reserve forest lands, and in the federal parks along the western side of the Rocky Mountains and for major federal forest land holdings in central and southeastern British Columbia.
A second major focus of the initiative is to deliver the research required to ensure an effective response to this beetle epidemic. These research needs were identified through a series of regional forums with hundreds of B.C. land managers.
All the mountain pine beetle initiative programs are fully operational and a wide range of B.C. landowners and researchers have become involved and many of them in the ridings represented by the hon. member and his colleagues in and around the city of Prince George in B.C.'s central interior.
The Canadian Forest Service has located staff in Prince George and Kamloops to assist private forest landowners to develop proposals to identify forest beetle infestations, to take management steps to control the beetle and to subsequently reforest these lands.
The Canadian Forest Service has also stationed a research group with three scientists and technical support at the University of Northern British Columbia to work with university and provincial government researchers in providing a cohesive and targeted flow of information in meeting the challenges of this beetle epidemic.
In addition, UNBC and provincial government researchers in Prince George have been awarded almost $1 million in mountain pine beetle initiative funds.
These are responsible and laudable actions on behalf of the landowners.
This issue is of utmost importance to us in British Columbia. We will continue to work with the provincial government, the affected landowners and our minister to find long term solutions to this very unfortunate situation. But I think that just playing politics is not going to do the job.