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Category "News/Canada/British Columbia"

20Feb

Surviving passenger in fatal drunk-driving crash testifies in trial over party hosts’ liability | CBC News

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A man suing the hosts of a party he attended before getting into a deadly impaired driving crash as a teenager testified during a civil trial in B.C. Supreme Court this week, telling the court how the rollover changed the course of his life.

Calder McCormick suffered a traumatic brain injury in the crash after a house party on Salt Spring Island on Sept. 15, 2012. The driver, another teen, was killed.

McCormick was 17 years old at the time.

His injuries and their effect on his career, relationships and personality were raised in his testimony Wednesday and Thursday as his legal team builds its civil case against the couple who owned the home where the party was held eight years ago.

McCormick is suing the hosts, Stephen and Lidia Pearson, for negligence. He claims they owed him a duty of care as their teenage guest. The lawsuit said the couple should have done more to stem underage alcohol consumption in their home and should have tried to stop him from leaving and getting in the car.

The car Ryan Plambeck and Calder McCormick used to leave the party on Sept. 15, 2012. The uninsured 1992 Subaru Loyale was towed to a lot after the crash. (CHEK News)

None of McCormick’s claims have been proven in court. The Pearsons have denied the allegations.

The trial will examine the law around social host liability in B.C. and how it might relate to minors. The issue is still relatively novel, and a trial judgment in the case could set a standard for how liable adult hosts might be held if underage partygoers injure themselves or someone else after they leave.

Aspiring carpenter

McCormick, now 24, told the court he used to love riding his BMX bike before the crash. He described himself as an A or B student at Gulf Islands Secondary School, excelling in shop and woodworking classes.

He said he wanted to graduate high school early and begin pursuing a career in carpentry, having already explored apprenticeships. At the time of the crash, he had just started Grade 12.

McCormick, dressed in a dark suit, said he and his fraternal twin brother each wanted to study trades at Camosun College, on nearby Vancouver Island, after graduation. 

“I thought we might volunteer at the fire department together,” McCormick told the court.

He went on to describe how his brother did go to Camosun and became an electrician, and how his twin eventually trained as a paramedic and volunteered at the firehall without him.

McCormick said he now lives in Victoria and receives disability benefits. He said he uses marijuana to manage his pain and can’t balance well enough to ride a bike anymore.

His lawyer claims he’ll never be “competitively employable” due to his injuries.

McCormick was a passenger in the 2012 crash on the Island’s North End Road. The driver, Ryan Plambeck, had been at the same party.

On Wednesday, McCormick told the court he had no interest in excessive drinking as a teen but did experiment with alcohol and marijuana and had consumed alcohol at the party.

McCormick described his general drinking activities as “definitely not too often and definitely not that much.”

The latter characterization has been disputed by the host, the Pearson defendants.

In their response to McCormick’s civil claim, the couple said the teen and his parents were ultimately the ones responsible for his safety. 

“His age and experience was such to leave him accountable and responsible for his choices, notwithstanding his legal status as a minor,” the response read.

Ryan Plambeck, 18, was killed in the crash on Salt Spring Island in 2012. Calder McCormick survived. (CHEK News)

They also claimed McCormick had a history of using alcohol and marijuana while he was with friends, and said that was something of which his parents were aware.

McCormick told the court he believes others at the party forced him into the vehicle with Plambeck, before they drove away from the party.

A coroner’s report said Plambeck, 18, had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit the night of the crash.

McCormick included Plambeck in his original statement of claim. A settlement was reached between McCormick and Plambeck’s estate on Tuesday.

The trial is expected to continue for several weeks.

19Feb

Tax the rich, spend on the poor: 3 years in, this is still an NDP government | CBC News

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“Budgets are really about choices,” said Finance Minister Carole James, more than once, as she delivered her third budget as B.C.’s finance minister.

That being said, there were fewer choices to make in this budget than her first two. 

With over three-quarters of the NDP’s election platform already on the way, and a commitment to a balanced budget, there was always going to be little room to manoeuvre — even if reforms at ICBC and a slight slowdown in the provincial economy hadn’t taken place. 

But those did things happen, and it meant the government had a decision to make: how would it stay in the black without going back on spending commitments in the expensive health and education ministries? 

The answer was a new tax on the people making the most money in the province — giving the province its highest marginal tax rate (20.5 per cent for people making over $220,000) this century. 

“If you had taken al look at the past government, what often would happen at this time when you saw moderation in the economy, you’d see programs and services cut … we’re not doing that,” said James. 

“In order to do that, we’ve asked the top one per cent to pay a little bit more. We believe they’ve benefited from a strong economy, and we believe they can contribute a little bit more.”

Death by a thousand hikes? 

Not surprisingly, the B.C. Liberals feel that the top one per cent have already been asked to “contribute a little bit more” one too many times under this government, whether it be from income taxes, corporate taxes, employer health taxes or the school tax

“The lack of competitiveness when it comes to the tax regime, when it comes to regulations, is causing serious repetitional damages to British Columbia. People are choosing not to invest here,” said MLA Stephanie Cadieux. 

“When tax structures get too uncompetitive, people just leave,” echoed fellow B.C. Liberal MLA Shirley Bond.

It’s a message the Liberals have consistently made while in opposition, but which so far has had limited traction outside its base because the province continues to be among the nationwide leaders in GDP growth.  

At the same time, business groups are also becoming more critical of the government’s approach than they were earlier in its term. 

“If a couple years ago was death by a thousand cuts, it’s death by 10,000 cuts,” said Val Litwin, CEO of B.C.’s Chamber of Commerce. 

“The biggest missing piece today was a strategy around competitiveness … what we’re seeing form small to big businesses is a real paucity around an economic strategy.”

Optimism muted

An NDP government will take their lumps from the Chamber of Commerce when it comes to tax policy: distributing wealth to the most marginalized is an article of faith.  

At the same time, the budget disappointed a number of groups that have been supportive of the government to date. 

“They’ve kicked the can down the road a little bit,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, who criticized the lack of new investments in new housing outside of commitments for more shelter and modular units. 

“This is a budget that’s not going to improve the situation.”

Several poverty advocate groups asked why there were no new commitments on disability or welfare rates. And Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, himself a former NDP MP, expressed disappointment about the lack of news on drug policy or a Millennium Line extension to UBC. 

“We need bold investments … if we’re to continue to help power B.C.’s economy.” 

Of course, the longer you’re in office, the most people you’re likely to disappoint. 

But as the clock ticks closer to the next provincial election, James shows full confidence in what has been a consistent governing approach. 

“It’s my job to ensure the benefits of B.C.’s strong economy are felt by everybody,” she said, “not just those at the top.”

13Feb

Victoria taxi refused blind man service, discrimination complaint says | CBC News

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A blind man claims a Victoria taxi refused to pick him and his guide dog up, and that a second taxi driver sent by the same company scolded him on his ride home for not warning dispatchers about his disability.

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to hear 73-year-old Andrew McCreath’s discrimination complaint over the alleged incident, after denying Bluebird Cabs’ application last week to dismiss it.

In the tribunal’s reason for decision, McCreath claims the alleged discrimination took place after a doctor’s appointment in July 2017.

According to the documents, he asked the receptionist at the doctor’s office to call him a taxi, then went outside with his dog to wait for it.

McCreath alleges that the receptionist noticed him still standing outside when the taxi should have already arrived, so she called a second one.

He claims the first taxi driver arrived, saw he was blind and had a guide dog, and cancelled his trip.

“It’s quite humiliating,” said McCreath, who has been blind for the last 60 years and relies on his guide dog, a German shepherd named Marsh, to help him navigate his surroundings.

A taxi driver is not allowed to refuse service to a customer who is visually impaired and has a certified guide dog, according to the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act.

Bluebird Cabs denies its drivers discriminated against McCreath.

The allegations have neither been proven nor formally heard by the tribunal.

Bluebird Cabs denies its drivers were discriminatory against McCreath and applied to have his complaint dismissed. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal rejected that application. (Facebook/Bluebird Cabs)

The 1st cab

According to the tribunal’s reason for decision, Bluebird’s GPS and dispatch records show that the first taxi arrived outside of the doctor’s office, waited for three minutes, then marked the fare as a no-show and drove off.

The first driver said he had no idea that the person he was picking up was blind because that information wasn’t on the trip profile when he accepted the call, the reason for decision says.

The driver claimed he did not see anyone who looked like they were waiting for a taxi, nor did he remember seeing a guide dog, and that’s why he cancelled the trip.

He also provided documents that shows he has taken trips with guide dogs before and after this incident.

But in his complaint, McCreath claims — based on his alleged conversation with the second cab driver — that the first driver did see him and chose to leave.

The 2nd cab

When the second cab arrived, McCreath alleges the driver told him the first cabby had an allergy and that’s why he couldn’t drive him, according to the tribunal documents.

McCreath also claims the second driver immediately scolded him for not informing Bluebird of his disability and requirements, then chastised him for the entire drive home.

The tribunal documents show Bluebird did not deny what the second driver said, and that no affidavit was submitted by the driver of the second cab.

2015 case favoured driver

During an application for dismissal, the tribunal only considers whether the allegations as stated violate B.C.’s Human Rights Code, and does not consider any defence or alternative theories.

In this case, “the allegations in the complaint go beyond conjecture and speculation and allege an arguable contravention of the code,” tribunal member Pamela Murray said in her decision.

The tribunal will now hold a hearing to determine whether McCreath was discriminated against.

It’s not the first time McCreath has taken a complaint about a taxi company to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. In 2015, he filed a complaint against Victoria Taxi for refusing him service because the driver said he had an allergy to dogs.

The tribunal ruled in favour of the driver in that case.

10Feb

7-month forestry strike may soon be over as Western Forest Products, union reach tentative agreement | CBC News

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Western Forest Products and the United Steelworkers union have reached a tentative collective agreement after a seven-month-long labour dispute.

The agreement between the company and the union was announced Monday. 

About 3,000 Vancouver Island forest workers and contractors represented by United Steelworkers Union Local 1-1937 have been off the job since July 1, striking over potential loss of pensions, seniority rights and long-term disability benefits.

On Feb. 6, the province appointed special mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers to help move negotiations along.

“We have reached a fair and equitable agreement that balances the needs of our employees and our business,” said Don Demens, president and CEO of Western Forest Products. 

“This has been a particularly challenging time and I’m pleased that we were able to find common ground through the efforts of all involved.”

CBC does not yet know the details of the agreement.

10Feb

‘He’s terrified, he’s outside, he’s freezing’: A mother’s ordeal trying to help her son off the streets | CBC News

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Pam Sanderson remembers when her son Keith Cathcart, her “little miracle baby,” was born. 

“He was so small. He was like the tiniest little guy … no bigger than my hand,” Sanderson, 48, said from her home in Regina. 

Keith is now 23. Sanderson says a cognitive disability, mental health issues, and a drug addiction have led her son to spend the last few years cycling through jail and sleeping on the streets in Victoria.

“It’s really difficult. It’s terrifying. As a mother because you love your kids so much. And I get those phone calls in the middle of the night where he’s terrified, he’s outside, he’s freezing,” she said.

She says she’s growing desperate trying to help. 

Pam Sanderson in her home, holding up a picture of her son, Keith Cathcart. (Submitted by Pam Sanderson)

Part of the problem, she says, is that Cathcart refuses to seek help for what she says are serious mental health problems. Sanderson says he has been banned from certain shelters and soup kitchens due to his behaviour and violent outbursts. 

In an interview last week at Victoria’s Centennial Square, Cathcart said he would appreciate getting housing support, but told CBC he doesn’t have mental health issues. 

Sanderson would like to see a provision in the Mental Health Act that would giver her the capacity to force her son to get support.

“There has to be something that provides a safety net for them,” she said. “They can’t ask for help because first of all they don’t acknowledge that they need it.”

Listen to the interview with Pam Sanderson and her son, Keith, on CBC’s All Points West:

Pam Sanderson’s son, Keith, lives on the streets of Victoria. She wants to help him, but she keeps hitting barriers. All Points West host Kathryn Marlow spoke to Pam, and Keith, about their challenges. 12:39

A common plight

Al Tysick, the founder of the outreach group the Victoria Dandelion Society, says Sanderson’s story is not unique.

“I hear from families all the time,” Tysick said, saying it is incredibly hard to watch someone spiral out of control without intervening.  

But as an adult, Tysick says, you’re allowed to live your life as you choose. 

A statement from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions also acknowledged a fine balance between personal autonomy and providing health care.

“There are currently no considerations or provisions that would allow parents to put adult children in treatment,” it read. 

However, it went on to point out the ministry is working to build a system of care that can meet these complex needs so that families have peace of mind that their loved ones are receiving effective compassionate care.

Listen to Al Tysick on CBC’s All Points West:

Al Tysick, with the Dandelion Society, spoke with Kathryn Marlow about helping those living on the streets of Victoria who are difficult to help. 8:12

Police as the only resort

In the meantime, Sanderson says the criminal justice system and the police seems to be the only resort left for her son.  

She says she will often call 911 when her son calls her distraught and disoriented.

“I don’t know what else to do. There’s no other services,” she said. “I’m in touch with the VicPD and with the Saanich PD on a regular basis.”

On Wednesday, the cycle seemed to begin again when Cathart was arrested and jailed for punching a shelter worker. 

 

8Feb

Nervous about your travel plans during coronavirus uncertainty? Insurance experts say refunds possible | CBC News

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Travellers nervous about globe-trotting during the novel coronavirus outbreak may be eligible to receive a refund for cancelling their travels, say insurance experts, but it depends on the destination, their insurance policy and other factors.

“I think in any case of sort of an epidemic like this, it’s really an evolving situation and every day is different, something new happens,” said Joan Weir, director of health and disability policy for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.

CLHIA represents 99 per cent of the country’s life and health insurance companies, according to its website.

Travel insurers watch the unfolding situation very carefully, she said, and the association is frequently checking in with all its members about what they’re experiencing.

There are now more than 31,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, according to the World Health Organization. 

The bulk of these are in China, where there have also been 637 deaths. Across 24 other countries, there are 270 confirmed cases and one death. There are five confirmed cases in Canada. 

The WHO declared the outbreak a global health emergency in late January. 

The Canadian government issued a Level 3 advisory for China, asking Canadians to avoid non-essential travel. There is only one higher level, which advises people to avoid all travel.

The government recommends people avoid travelling to Hubei province, where Wuhan city is located. The province has recorded 22,112 of China’s 31,211 coronavirus cases, according to the WHO. 

As soon as the Canadian government declares a Level 3 or 4 travel advisory, a person may cancel their upcoming trip and their insurance should cover any lost expenses, said Weir. 

“You’d have to submit receipts,” she said, but travellers should receive refunds for flights, hotels and other costs.

Trips booked before the government issues these advisories are often covered by travel insurance, said an emailed statement from insurance company RSA Canada.

“Trips booked after this point are not eligible for medical coverage or trip cancellation/interruption coverage.”

Allianz Global Assistance Canada — which declined to comment due to “how quickly the current coronavirus is evolving and the changing advisories” from Canada’s government and others — posted a notice on its website about the outbreak, indicating booking timing mattered for coverage eligibility.

People travelling to China whose trip cancellation benefits kick in if the government issues a Level 3 advisory would be eligible to submit a claim if they purchased insurance before Jan. 29, when the government issued its advisory, according to the statement.

For those who do qualify, it doesn’t matter whether their trip is next week or in six months, said Weir. 

However, the destination matters. While 24 countries have confirmed coronavirus cases, Canada’s travel advisory applies only to China. That means a person who feels uncomfortable travelling to any of the other countries won’t be able to get a refund for cancelling their trip, she said.

That is, unless they purchased what’s known as cancel-for-any-reason insurance, she said, which does exactly what the name implies.

Those who haven’t purchased any travel insurance may still be able to secure a refund, Weir noted, as many major credit cards offer some kind of coverage.

“But it depends on which credit card you have and what the benefits are,” she said. “So it’s good to know what your credit card covers for trip cancellation, for trip health, all that.”

Watch Felicity Feng, a Montreal woman visiting her parents in Wuhan over the Lunar New Year holiday, talk about being caught up in the coronavirus outbreak.

Felicity Feng, a Montreal woman visiting her parents in Wuhan over the Lunar New Year holiday, was caught up in the coronavirus outbreak. 5:09

6Feb

Special mediators appointed in bid to end B.C. forestry dispute | CBC News

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A pair of top mediators who stepped away from talks aimed at ending a seven-month-long dispute between Western Forest Products and the United Steelworkers union have now been appointed as special mediators by B.C.’s Minister of Labour.

In a statement released Thursday morning, Minister Harry Bains announced the appointments of Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers just two days after they left the talks, when they said they saw no basis for a negotiated settlement.

“I have decided to appoint special mediators Ready and Rogers with additional powers under the Labour Relations Code to help the parties reach an agreement as soon as possible,” said Bains.

As special mediators, the pair will provide the parties and the minister with recommended terms for settlement, after which both sides will have five days to either accept or reject, according to the statement.

Bains can also choose to make the terms of settlement public.

“I am confident that with the assistance of two of the nation’s top mediators, and the additional powers provided to them under the Labour Relations Code by this appointment, both sides can achieve a deal that ensures the sustainability of coastal forestry jobs and supports the terms and conditions of employment important to workers.”

About 3,000 Vancouver Island forest workers and contractors represented by United Steelworkers Union Local 1-1937 have been off the job since July 1, when they began striking over potential loss of pensions, seniority rights and long-term disability benefits.

Talks between the company and the union reached an impasse in December, but the mediators invited both sides back to the table last week.

4Feb

Mediators walk away from negotiations in 7-month-long Western Forest Products strike | CBC News

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There’s been another setback in the seven-month strike at Western Forest Products, with the withdrawal of two independent mediators from negotiations.

According to the forestry company, mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers announced their decision in a letter, explaining that they saw no basis for a negotiated settlement.

Labour Minister Harry Bains said he was disappointed by the news and will consider the province’s options for resolving the standoff.

“The impact of this dispute is being felt by many in the province and action is needed to ensure a vibrant coastal forest sector in B.C. with sustainable jobs now and into the future,” Bains said in a written statement.

About 3,000 Vancouver Island forest workers and contractors represented by United Steelworkers Union Local 1-1937 have been off the job since July 1, when they began striking over potential loss of pensions, seniority rights and long-term disability benefits.

Talks between the company and the union reached an impasse in December, but the mediators invited both sides back to the table last week.

Union, company respond

Union president Brian Butler said he wasn’t surprised to learn the mediators had withdrawn, but striking workers have made it clear they want to continue fighting. He explained that a particular sticking point has been long hours and irregular work schedules.

“Our members are standing strong for the right issues and the right reasons. None of our members want to be off work…. They just want to be able to go to work with their heads held high and be safe on the job,” Butler told CBC.

He added that he opposes any intervention by the government.

Western Forest Products president Don Demens said the company has made generous contract and wage offers, but remains committed to reaching a fair agreement.

“We recognize the profound impact the strike is having on our employees, contractors, their families and communities,” Demens said in a press release.

The province has said that logging contractors affected by the strike can apply for bridging loans from a $5 million fund that was established last month. The money is intended to help them make payments on their logging equipment as the strike drags on.

31Jan

Family of murdered Kelowna man accepts killer’s courtroom apology | CBC News

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Steven Pirko, a Kelowna man who interrupted a fist fight and bludgeoned his unsuspecting victim to death with a hammer, has been handed a life sentence with no chance of parole for 11 years.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Allan Betton delivered the decision at the Kelowna court house on Friday at Pirko’s sentencing hearing for the second degree murder of Christoper Ausman.

Pirko, 27, stood in court and apologized to Ausman’s daughter and other family members seated in the court room gallery. 

“I wish I could take back what I did,” Pirko said while facing Ausman’s family.

“I just want to say I am very, very sorry for everything I put you through. It makes me sick how sad that little girl is and how sad you all are.”

Killing happened during fist fight between strangers

The killing happened during a senseless fist fight between two strangers in the early morning hours Jan 25, 2014.

Pirko was walking with his friend Elrick Dyck along Highway 33 in Kelowna’s Rutland neighbourhood. The pair had been drinking and Dyck was challenging people they came across to a fight.

He found a willing combatant in Ausman who was walking alone on the other side of the highway.

Ausman, 32, had also been drinking that night and he ran across the road to take Dyck on when he was challenged.

Ausman started to gain the upper hand and just over a minute into the fight Dyck called to Pirko for assistance.

Pirko took a hammer he was carrying and struck Ausman repeatedly from behind.

A Supreme Court judge gave 27-year-old Steven Randy Pirko a life sentence in prison on Friday. Pirko will be eligible for parole in eight years due to time already served. (Facebook/Crime Stoppers Central Okanagan)

“Of all of the options available to Mr. Pirko he went to the hammer,”  Betton said during the sentencing hearing on Friday.

“He struck Ausman in the leg and then went directly to his head.”

Pirko hit Ausman more that a dozen times with the hammer including three fatal blows to the head.

Ausman’s body was found in a pool of blood later that morning by an RCMP officer.

Pirko was captured on a nearby restaurant’s surveillance camera and identified as a suspect. 

Ironically, the security camera was only installed by the restaurant’s owner because of a break-in Pirko had previously committed to steal two bottles of alcohol from the business.

Life sentence with 11 years of parole ineligibility 

Pirko was was arrested in 2016 and charged with second degree murder.

Last July, a jury found him guilty of second degree murder — a crime with carries a life sentence.

On Friday Betton handed Pirko a 11-year period of parole ineligibility.  

Christopher Ausman’s brother Kelly Ausman and his mother Annie Hutton wearing blue shirts with angle wings and Chris’ initials outside Kelowna’s court house. (Brady Strachan/cbc)

After the sentencing hearing Ausman’s brother Kelly said he accepts Pirko’s apology.

“I truly believe there was remorse in that apology,” he said.

“There will never be forgiveness, but I hope nothing but positive throughout his life. You know, do something good for yourself and honour my brother.”

Ausman’s mother Annie Hutton embraced Pirko’s mother in court after the hearing. Hutton said she is ready to move on from the tragedy.

“In the whole big scheme of things, nobody really wins at this. Three young men collided that night. Three worlds got changed horribly,” she said.

“It’s a very sad, sad scenario. We can move forward now to start a new journey.”

Although Pirko was handed 11 years of parole ineligibility, he will be able to apply for parole in just over eight years because the court credited him with 947 days served for the time he spent in custody awaiting trial. 

Kelly Ausman said his family has no plans to petition the parole board to keep Pirko incarcerated when he finally is able to apply to be released from prison.

“Now we are hoping just for some closure so that we can find peace with Chris not here, but hold onto his memory in our hearts,” he said.

31Jan

Glimmer of hope in 6-month-long Western Forest Products strike | CBC News

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Talks between striking Western Forest Products workers and the company could resume as early as this weekend. 

About 3,000 Vancouver Island coastal forest workers and contractors walked off the job July 1 over potential loss of pensions, seniority rights and long-term disability benefits.

The United Steelworkers Union Local 1-1937 sent out a notice to its members Thursday saying mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers have emailed the union and Western Forest Products inviting them back to the table.

The union says it has agreed to return to negotiations while Western Forest Products says it will speak to the mediators before heading back to talks with the union.

Talks between the two parties reached an impasse in December. 

Port Hardy Mayor Dennis Dugas told CBC last month that the strike has been devastating to his town.

“Our businesses and community feel like they’re part of the collateral damage,” he said.

Meanwhile, the province says logging contractors affected by the strike can now apply for bridging loans from a $5 million fund that was established earlier this month. 

The money is intended to help them make payments on their logging equipment as the strike drags on. 

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