Three B.C. Liberal MLA’s met with local stakeholders in the forestry industry in Cranbrook to discuss issues such as mill closures and curtailments that are affecting resource-based economies across the province.
John Rustad, the Opposition critic for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, was joined by regional counterparts in Tom Shypitka, MLA for Kootenay East and Doug Clovechok, MLA for neighbouring Columbia River-Revelstoke.
“We’re seeing some certain developments here over the last little while that are challenging our industry — that’s putting it lightly. In some communities up north, we’re seeing major layoffs, we’ve seen locally curtailments at the Elko mill, the Galloway mill is basically on skeleton crew,” said Shypitka.
“Right now, this meeting’s been brought forward to identify the problems, look at our short term and long term goals and to see if there’s anything we should be pressing government on, and I think there’s a numerous amount of things we should be pressing them on.”
Up in the Columbia Valley region, Clovechok noted that industry is concerned about the impacts of restrictions of timber harvest as part of a caribou recovery plan, adding that a significant investment into a Louisiana-Pacific Canada Ltd mill in Golden has been stalled.
“LP in Golden has timber supply in the Malakwa, which will have a huge effect on them,” said Clovechok. “There’s already been a step back of a $70 million investment in the Golden LP mill. Obviously, Gorman’s operation in Revelstoke is very concerned around the caribou issue, so we’re still punching above our weight when it comes to the industry itself in my riding; we’re still doing alright, but there are still huge concerns, as Tom talked about, that there are going to be job losses and that’s what we’re here to talk about.”
The B.C. forestry sector is reeling due to lower lumber prices and reduced timber supply from pine-beetle ravaged supply. However, Rustad, the MLA for Nechako Lakes and B.C. Liberal Party forestry critic, warned that while the situation is stable, more pain could be on the way.
He specifically took aim at additional government policies that have been added since the NDP government came into power two years ago, and lamented the loss of a committee that monitored the competitiveness of B.C. forestry sector.
Rustad also blasted Premier John Horgan for not meeting with communities that are struggling with forestry challenges, and pitched solutions such as getting co-ordinators to help affected workers transition to new or longer-term employment in their home communities or working with the federal government to set up short-term employment insurance programs.
“These are families, they’ve got bills to pay, they’ve got mortgages and it’s really hard for them,” said Rustad, “so part of these conversations we’re having around the province, like the one here, is trying to put pressure on government to come to the table, to bring some support in for the impacted forest industry on the short term, to help us get through this challenge, but nobody knows how long this challenge will last.”
Last week, the provincial government announced that ministry staff will be touring much of the B.C. Interior over the next month holding in-person engagement sessions seeking feedback for an Interior Forest Sector Renewal discussion paper.
The provincial government is encouraging all forestry stakeholders — from industry, First Nations, contractors and labour representatives — to provide their input.
Ministry staff will be in Cranbrook for one of those meetings between July 28 – Aug. 3, but a specific time and location have yet to be announced.