The closure of the Paper Excellence pulp mill in Mackenzie has renewed Liberals’ criticism of the NDP government’s handling of the forest industry in B.C.
“Mackenzie has been in crisis for more than two years, and while the pandemic has presented its challenges, there is more than enough fibre in the area to support forestry operations and government has to step up to the plate,” said Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris. “Step-by-step, the NDP is making it more difficult for companies and workers to make a living. I am very concerned about the community I have the honour of representing and the many workers impacted by this crisis.”
Paper Excellence said the COVID-19 global pandemic is having negative impacts on pulp markets and that a fibre shortage in B.C. and the Mackenzie region have affected the mill’s competitiveness. This shortage was exacerbated by recent curtailment of sawmills in the Mackenzie region dramatically reducing economic fibre availability.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said he is “saddened” by news of the closure.
“My heart goes out to the 253 directly impacted workers, their families and the entire Mackenzie community during this difficult time,” he said. “Many in the community, including Mayor Joan Atkinson, have worked tirelessly to keep this operation running … Our first priority is to support forest communities, workers and families, and we will be reaching out to UNIFOR and Paper Excellence to determine what supports are needed. All employees impacted by the closure of Paper Excellence’s Mackenzie pulp mill are eligible to access supports and services under our government’s $69-million forestry worker support fund. Supports under this fund include job placements, retirement bridging and retraining.”
Last year saw the indefinite closure of the Canfor mill in Mackenzie, which impacted over 260 employees and this year there has already been a curtailment at the Conifex mill.
“For two years we have been telling the NDP that government has a responsibility and a role to play to make fibre available and keep B.C. mills and forestry operations competitive,” said Nechako Lakes MLA and forestry critic John Rustad. “Yet all the mill closures in this country are located primarily in B.C., which means we are not competitive even with other provinces. Horgan’s NDP have made B.C. the highest cost producers in North America. It is long past time that the NDP focus on reducing costs before we lose any more forestry jobs permanently.”
Close to 1,000 people rallied in Mackenzie last August with the theme “Our Logs, Our Jobs,” protesting the fact that much of timber harvested in the area is processed out of the area.
“We do have a robust fibre supply,” Mackenzie Mayor Joan Atkinson told members at the rally last summer. “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.