A proposed 60-bed addiction treatment facility on a remote lake near Vanderhoof is getting a second hearing, with a letter of support from B.C.’s deputy agriculture minister after pleas about the deadly impact of opioid drugs on the local Indigenous community.
Carrier Sekani Family Services proposes to buy and convert a fishing lodge on Tatchick Lake to a culturally sensitive healing retreat, replacing 40-year-old lakeshore cabins with a retreat and parking area using a small portion of the land that has never been used for farming. After the Agricultural Land Commission rejected the non-farm use application in February, Carrier Sekani leaders spoke out about the need.
“People are dying every day because of the opioid crisis, and in our community we’ve have three or four deaths over the last year and we desperately need this facility to happen,” Saik’uz First Nation Chief Priscilla Meuller said in March.
B.C. Liberal MLA Mike de Jong questioned Agriculture Minister Lana Popham at length last week about the ministry’s efforts to see the project through. He submitted an April 12 letter from the deputy agriculture minister to Carrier Sekani Family Services, indicating support for the project.
Popham said she was not told the letter was being sent, and cited cabinet confidentiality about another ministry letter to Mueller, indicating that a cabinet order was being prepared to overrule the land commission. “We were pursuing options, looking at what could be done, and information was being prepared for consideration,” Popham told the B.C. legislature June 3.
The Carrier Sekani agency has applied again, with the deputy minister’s letter included in a package sent to the regional district government, which is now required to present applications under the NDP government’s changes that prevent farmers from applying directly. Popham rejected de Jong’s argument that the ministry’s actions were interfering.
“He insinuated that there has been interference in the application around the Carrier-Sekani, and I would like to state on the record that I categorically disagree,” Popham said. “There has been no interference.”
Popham’s overhaul of the land commission and non-farm uses has led to controversies over restrictions on secondary homes on farmland, operation of a farm-to-table restaurant and an Abbotsford farmhouse converted to an addiction recovery house for women, which was allowed to continue after the operating society was told to move because it is a non-farm use.