By: Robin Austin
The Liberal government released a strategy for the forest industry in late August, in a classic case of far too little, far too late.
Forests minister Steve Thomson announced his strategy for the industry, with a stated intent to fix the problems in the industry and set it on a path for long-term sustainability.
The first question that springs to mind is: where have the B.C. Liberals been for the past 15 years?
But perhaps the more important question is: why don’t B.C. Liberals first take some responsibility?
The forest industry has suffered greatly under the B.C. Liberal government.
More than 150 mills have closed across the province and more than 25,000 good, family-supporting jobs have vanished.
As these job losses were occurring, B.C. was exporting raw logs in record numbers; at its peak, we exported nearly seven million cubic metres of raw timber.
The B.C. Liberals wanted to argue that was okay, because at least there was work for the women and men in the bush, but there were B.C. companies who couldn’t get access to that fibre because it was being shipped.
The result is that in some regions of the province – including the northwest – there simply isn’t the milling capacity to handle the logs coming out of the woods.
We have timber, and the resulting jobs in logging, but we’re missing out on the thousands of jobs we could have if we processed those logs at home.
To put those seven million cubic metres in perspective, if those logs were to be accessed by B.C. mills, they could have created at least 7,000 jobs.
Now, under Premier Christy Clark’s government, we’re getting fewer jobs per tree than before.
In 2000, for example, we got one job for every 800 cubic metres harvested; in 2013, that number was 1,293 cubic metres – a difference of more than 50 per cent.
Considering that smaller, value-added manufacturers were finding it difficult to get access to wood, it’s no surprise we were getting fewer jobs from our forests than other provinces in Canada.
And finally, the B.C. Liberals have failed to look after the foundation of forestry – the forests themselves.
Independent experts including the provincial Forest Practices Board and the Auditor General have both soundly condemned the Liberal government for their failure to protect the health of the forests.
The auditor general called our forests our single most valuable asset, an asset worth half a trillion dollars.
John Horgan and B.C.’s New Democrats believe that B.C.’s forests should be protected and invested in.
We have been calling on the government for years to ensure that forests are there to provide the kind of economic, cultural and recreational activity that we have all enjoyed for generations.
And New Democrats believe that forest policy in B.C. should be there to create jobs for B.C. workers.
That means working to ensure that logs are milled in B.C. wherever possible and that means developing policies to ensure that value-added companies are no longer starved for fibre as they are under the current Liberal government.
New Democrats believe that it’s the epitome of failure that a Liberal government that waited 15 years – after 25,000 jobs were lost – to come up with a strategy to deal with forestry.
British Columbians deserve better than what they’ve gotten from this B.C. Liberal government.
Robin Austin is the provincial New Democratic Party Member of the Legislative Assembly for Skeena.
First elected in 2005, he was re-elected in 2009 and again in 2013.
Earlier this year Austin announced he won’t be running in the May 9, 2017 provincial election.