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Fixing the forest industry in five easy steps

The BC Liberals’ FIVE THINGS THE NDP SHOULD DO TO HELP THE FOREST INDUSTRY (you won’t believe No. 6) has the benefit of coming from the opposition … in other words, no one needs to take it too seriously.

The Liberals are right to be critical of the NDP response to the ongoing mill closures, temporary and permanent, in the B.C Interior. Other than Forests Minister Doug Donaldson responding to Tolko’s closure of its Quest Wood mill, saying “staff from the regional economic development branch of my ministry and staff from the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction will work with Tolko and the community to co-ordinate the delivery of provincial support programs and that they work with the federal government to ensure supports are made available to affected workers,” the government has been relatively quiet on subsequent closures.

However, the BC Liberals’ five suggestions for the NDP seem to be more about politics than reality.

In one breath, Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson says Premier John Horgan should get on his white horse and ride off to Ottawa and/or Washington and solve the softwood lumber dispute. I think this is the same Andrew Wilkinson who chastized Horgan for heading off to Ottawa and/or Washington to solve the softwood lumber dispute right after he was elected.

Then the Liberals say the NDP should lower taxes on the forest industry by immediately lowering stumpage rates. Wilkinson apparently didn’t get the memo, over the past 40 years, that the U.S. thinks our stumpage rates should be higher, not lower, and that it’s been one of the issues of contention in the disputes going back to when Bill Bennett was premier and couldn’t square that peg.

So, sounds good … lower stumpage rates, draw the ire of the Americans, and get Donald Trump to start shaking in his boots. Sounds like a plan.

The Liberals are also calling on the government to establish a forestry competitiveness committee, including opposition MLAs, “focused on how we can ensure a healthy sector in the short and long term.” Sounds good.

In April the government announced an initiative to renew the Interior forest industry. Horgan wrote to the chief executives of Interior forest companies, inviting them to lead the process with government and to partner with labour leaders, First Nations and communities. The difference between that and the Liberals’ “competitiveness committee?” Horgan’s plan doesn’t put Opposition MLAs at the table. Major faux pas.

The Liberals are also calling on government to create a fund that impacted communities can access to hire contractors and out-of-work forestry workers on wildfire mitigation projects. Not a bad idea, but maybe if such a fund had been created a few years back when … oh … someone else was in power, it would have lots of money in it now.

The Liberals are making great political hay with the current spate of mills closures and job losses in the forest sector … and so they should, there’s fodder there (at the expense of out-of-work millworkers). However, there is that thing about glass houses, rocks, and all that stuff. The Liberal record on job losses in the forest isn’t much better. Check out the following graph complied by Natural Resources Canada, paying attention to the years 2001-2017 when the Liberals were in power. No, the graph isn’t upside down.

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