The B.C. Liberals have called out the provincial government for not doing enough in the wake of the Interior’s declining timber supply and log prices.
In a news release issued today (Nov. 15), Cariboo and Nechako Lakes MLAs said the local forestry industry has been “ignored.”
“There are already hundreds of forestry workers out of work in the Cariboo, and I know those who are still working are very worried about their future,” said Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett. “The last two wildfire seasons have been devastating and we are in desperate need of an economic recovery program for the whole of rural and northern B.C.”
Forestry workers across the region have seen layoffs due to both decreased timber supply and market conditions. Most recently, West Fraser announced Nov. 13 that it would be permanently reducing production in both its Quesnel and Fraser Lake sawmills as of Jan. 14, 2019, to better align its output with available fibre.
Tolko’s Questwood Division in Quesnel also curtailed operations as of mid-October due to market conditions, and Conifex in Fort St. James announced it will shut down for at least four weeks as of Monday Nov. 12. Canfor in Prince George has curtailed its sawmill production as well.
The decrease in timber is largely due to the now dwindling supply of salvageable logs affected by Mountain Pine Beetle, as well as the Interior’s forests being hit hard by two years of wildfires. The lumber market has been hit by high tariffs from the US.
“Punitive tariffs on softwood lumber are a bad recipe for the industry going forward,” said Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes. “Workers in my riding have been hit the hardest so far and I am afraid of more to come. We need to stabilize the industry in the interim and have a long-term strategy to deal with the challenges that come from nature including wildfires and beetle infestations.”
“The current government has virtually ignored the softwood lumber dispute largely because of demand south of the border,” said Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad. “We are now paying the price in terms of layoffs. While NAFTA was being renegotiated, the steel, aluminum and auto industries had a voice in government but the forest industry was left largely ignored.”
Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development Doug Donaldson refuted the claim that the current government has ignored the softwood lumber dispute, saying the previous Liberal government allowed the agreement to expire.
“It’s inaccurate to say that we’ve been ignoring the softwood lumber agreement. It’s something that expired under the watch of the BC Liberals, and we’ve picked up the slack since then,” he told the Observer.
“We are doing a lot of work on the softwood lumber dispute front. We are pursuing litigation through the World Trade Organization and the NAFTA process. We’ve won in the courts before, that the tariffs are unwarranted and unjust,” he said.
With regards to the recent mill layoffs, Minister Donaldson said his thoughts go out to the workers and their families.
“We’ve initiated, through our Rural Development Branch, measures to help workers out,” he said, explaining that his ministry has been working closely with the Ministry of Social Development & Poverty Reduction, which oversees WorkBC centres.
“There’s definitely retraining opportunities and I know, for instance, many mills – even as they lay off staff in the regular mill jobs – they are still short on tradespeople, so that’s the focus; we want to look for opportunities for people to stay in the community,” said Donaldson.
Donaldson also pointed to the recent Rural Dividend Grant awarded to the City of Quesnel to help fund its forestry-sector revitalization initiatives, saying his ministry is aware of the need to revamp the sector, as well as to help rural communities diversify their economies.
“We have allocated $1.6 million to promote tourism in the Interior areas affected by forest fires in 2017, the same areas where we’ve expedited 2.4 million cubic metres of fire damaged timber and fire salvage licences.”
Donaldson said he is headed to Korea, China and Japan in early December with B.C.’s forestry sector leaders to further efforts to diversify the market.