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Backcountry is one of British Columbia’s largest hunting, fishing and outdoor supply stores. The Fort St. John area is home to some of the best hunting and fishing opportunities in North America and often referred to as “The Serengeti of the North”.

Minister of Children and Family Development visits Fort St. John

Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil was in Fort St. John yesterday, to see what's going on in our area. Tuesday, she visited the Ministry's Fort St. John offices, as well as the Keeginaw Friendship Centre, NENAS and NENAN, and Mayor Lori Ackerman.

She, along with the new Executive Director of Service Northeast for the MCFD Ed Berry, Friendship Centre Executive Director Anita Lee and MLA Pat Pimm, discussed how childcare and family services have survived since the economic downfall in 2008/2009. McNeil says there was a silver lining to the crisis.

"I find it's making people much more creative," she says. "If anything good came out of 08/09 when the economy went crazy, it's the fact that everyone's had to be more creative, they've had to be more collaborative."

That's something Lee says the Friendship Centre has been able to do.

"Despite the economy being the way it has been, we've managed to hang on and be creative in working with other people to capture a few extra dollars," she argues.

Lee and her coworkers sit on several boards in the city, which she says helps aide in collaboration between different community groups.

Despite the Centre's ability to stay afloat, there still remains a shortage of childcare in Fort St. John, which McNeil says is a province-wide problem. Part of the problem is recruitment and retention of Early Childhood Educators, as although Northern Lights College offers a program, it can be done through correspondence.

"How can we train folks in their own community so they'll want to stay, because training them somewhere and bringing them in… the synergy isn't there sometimes, so how can we do a better job?", she asks, as it's something the ministry is looking into.

A report came out last year by the Coalition of Childcare Advocates, that identified areas where the Ministry could improve, but McNeil says while it has some suggestions worth looking into, but it comes with a hefty price tag.

"My annual budget for MCFD is $1.331 billion," she says. "That one document is almost $2 billion in itself. That's over and above child protection, adoption, foster care, all the other things that we do in the Ministry."

Instead of talking numbers, she'd prefer to talk ideas, and see what can be done with a smaller budget. She says the challenge is to find ways to give families lots of options, which could include tax savings.

McNeil is touring Dawson Creek today, before heading back home to Vancouver.