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Liberals call on government to do more to help communities hit by mill closures

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad
Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad

Fifteen Liberal MLAs descended on Prince George Monday to unveil a five-point plan they believe the provincial government should implement to deal with job losses in the forest sector.

“The NDP are basically missing in action on the forestry file at a time when hundreds of people are out of work as a direct result of mill closures while thousands of more jobs are indirectly threatened in supporting industries,” said Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Critic and Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, in a news release. “There is crisis in the forest industry that is having ripple effects throughout the entire provincial economy and we have a government that is basically sitting on its hands and doing nothing.

The Liberal proposal includes:

  1. The provincial government needs to take a leadership role and match employment opportunities between displaced workers and employers. The transition teams, which government has said are already being mobilized to affected communities, must be focused on supporting mill workers, contractors and small businesses, all of which have been heavily impacted by mill closures and curtailments, say the Liberals.
  2. Adequate social services, including mental health services, need to be prioritized in these communities to address the cumulative impacts on workers and their communities.
  3. The provincial government must ask the federal government to establish programs such as retirement bridging for eligible workers and work-sharing.
  4. The provincial government must make money available to local governments specifically for displaced forestry workers to remove fuel to reduce the risk of wildfires in communities.
  5. The Liberals say there needs to be a specific cabinet working group to address the crisis.

Last week the government announced it will to apply a new, targeted fee-in-lieu of manufacturing for exported logs harvested from a coastal BC Timber Sales licence in an effort to ensure more logs are processed in the province. In April the government launched an initiative designed to renew the province’s forest industry. Premier John Horgan asked the chief executives of Interior forest companies to lead the process with government and to partner with labour leaders, First Nations and communities to chart a sustainable path forward. While focusing on the entire Interior forest industry, individual strategy discussions will be carried out in each timber supply area (TSA).

The Liberals, however, have been calling for immediate action to deal with closures in specific communities.

“In the absence of any provincial action by John Horgan and the NDP, the B.C. Liberal Rural Caucus has come up with an immediate plan of action based on what we have heard from communities directly affected by the crisis in the forest industry,” said Rural Caucus Chair and Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett. “If we don’t get any immediate cooperation from the provincial government, our caucus is prepared to appeal directly to the federal government.”