The message was very simple.
“Our logs, our jobs,” was the theme and the chant of close to 1,000 people who marched through the streets of Mackenzie and then attended a two-hour rally in support of the forest industry, calling for timber harvested in the region to be processed in the region.
In June, Canfor announced it will be closing, indefinitely, its Mackenzie sawmill. Earlier this month Conifex extended a two-week shut-down of its Mackenzie mill by another three weeks.
“We are here with a united voice to let the province, industry, and corporate shareholders know that our community matters,” said Mackenzie Mayor Joan Atkinson. “Not only to the people who call this community home, but to the entire province.”
She said the contributions of the forest industry in area contribute to the provincial economy.
“In times like this, we must be supported and invited to be part conversations moving forward,” she said.
The rally comes as the forest industry across the province has been hit with temporary and permanent shut-downs due to a dwindling fibre supply, which has been reduced by the mountain pine beetle and two devastating forest fire seasons.
“That is not the case in Mackenzie,” said Atkinson. “We do have a robust fibre supply. It is time for all us to work collaboratively and identify what is not working and what is needed to fix it.”
She said forest policy has to change in the province.
“Mackenzie is not prepared to become the supplier of logs to facilities in other parts of the province while our mills sit idle,” she said.
While the province has been criticized for not acting quickly enough to help forest communities, Atkinson said the province has been in constant communication with the province to deal with the economic crisis.
That was backed up by Forest Minister Doug Donaldson who told the crowd that, through BC Timber Sales, the province has been working to find some fibre for Conifex.
“We know restarting Conifex sawmill would provide support, not only for millworkers, but downstream who rely on the mill for residuals and that includes Conifex Power, East Fraser Fibre, and Paper Excellence,” he said. “That’s why BC Timber Sales is working with Conifex to address short-term fibre access issues and we are confident those details will be worked out by the end of this month.”
He said he hopes that Conifex can restart in September, however he said it’s not a “silver bullet,” that will solve the industry’s problems.
He said the province leading community transition responses for communities like Mackenzie with job fairs and skills counselling.
“I’ve also let the federal government know that they need step up to the plate with funding for affected workers and to press the gas pedal on getting a softwood lumber agreement,” he said. “It’s been long enough that our forest sector has been unfairly targeted.
He said government does have to look at what has transpired in the industry over the past few years.
“To be blunt about it, we’re cleaning up a mess that likely wouldn’t exists if action would have been taken 10, or even five years ago, to diversify and get for value from the trees that are harvested.”
Donaldson dismissed the Liberal proposal to immediately reduce stumpage rates as a way to help the forest industry.
“This fails to recognize that stumpage rates are at the very heart of the one of the longest running trade disputes between Canada and the U.S.,” he said. “One only needs to look at the latest trade news to see how the current U.S. government would like respond if any government reduced stumpage rates. A long and protracted trade war isn’t going to help the forest industry.”