Liberals say province not doing enough for Interior forest communities

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad

With several Interior forest companies announcing layoffs and/or temporary shut downs, Liberal MLAs say the NDP government isn’t doing enough to help.

Declining log prices and problems with timber supply due to two devastating forest fire seasons and the mountain pine beetle have been tagged as reasons for the cutbacks.  Lumber producers have also been hit with tariffs on softwood lumber headed to the U.S.

“The current government has virtually ignored the softwood lumber dispute largely because of demand south of the border,” said Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, in a news release. “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.”

Last fall, the United States Department of Commerce has announced its final determination of duties of 20.83 per cent to be applied to the majority of Canadian softwood lumber shipments entering the U.S. The final countervailing duty rate is 14.25 per cent (a decrease from the preliminary rate 19.88 per cent) and the final anti-dumping duty rate is 6.58 per cent (a decrease from the preliminary rate 6.87 per cent).

British Columbia is supporting the federal government in appealing the U.S. Department of Commerce’s findings.

“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.”

West Fraser is eliminating the third shift at both its Fraser Lake and Quesnel sawmills.

The move will affect approximately 60 employees at Fraser Lake and 75 employees at Quesnel Sawmill over the first and second quarter of 2019. The company expects to mitigate the impact on affected employees by offering them work opportunities at other West Fraser operations, according to a statement on its website. The reduction will also permanently curtail approximately 300 million board feet of combined lumber production at the two mills.

Canfor has also announced it will be cutting production at its Interior mills by 10 per cent. Canfor CEO Don Kayne told reporters Thursday the primary reasons for the cutbacks are timber supply due to forest fires and the mountain pine beetle infestation.

“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.”

The Nechako Watershed Roundtable has also called on the province to begin re-evaulating the timber supply in the watershed after last summer’s fires.

The ministry told the PG Daily News that burn severity mapping is now complete for the majority of the area burned in last summer’s fires in the Stuart Nechako Natural Resource district, with the final assessment of the Shovel Lake fire expected within the next few weeks. Those are the first steps in a complete timber supply review.