BY PETER EWART AND DAWN HEMINGWAY
Special to the News
On June 23, hundreds of Mackenzie residents participated in a rally to speak out about the mill shutdowns that have hit the town, the latest being the closing of the Paper Excellence pulp mill, as well as to protest the shipping out of raw logs from the Mackenzie timber supply area.
The other two major mills in the town, Canfor and Conifex, have also been closed or curtailed (Canfor since last summer), putting hundreds out of work and causing serious disruption to the local economy. What has been especially disturbing to residents is that Canfor, still holding onto timber rights, has been selling off logs and allowing literally thousands of truckloads of timber to be shipped out to other jurisdictions while keeping its own mill in Mackenzie shuttered indefinitely.
Participants carried placards: We won’t be defeated – Mackenzie strong! Our logs, our future! You, me, us – united we stand! Time for a change!
Chris Dixon, president of UNIFOR Local 1092 at Paper Excellence, chaired the rally, which began after a long convoy of vehicles proceeded from town to the Canfor mill gates. In his comments, he thanked everyone for coming out and noted how important appurtenancy had been to the development of the town. Appurtenancy was the policy that required forest companies to process logs in or near the communities where they were harvested. However, it was eliminated in 2003 by the provincial government of that time, thus allowing companies to close mills, hold on to timber rights, and ship logs out of the region. He called upon the current provincial government to stop “playing the blame game” and step up and fix the problem. Canfor is “killing the town,” he said, and must stop “selling off our jobs and our logs.”
In her presentation, Joan Atkinson, Mayor of the District of Mackenzie, let the rally know some good news – that Conifex had just announced that it would be reopening its mill on July 6. However, she emphasized that there was still a lot of work to get the other two mills in town up and running.
Atkinson explained how several decades back, the forest industry in Mackenzie had been a model for full log utilization, from cruising and layout in the bush, to harvesting operations, to processing at the sawmills, to delivering residuals to the pulp mill and cogeneration plant. However, in July 2019, Canfor broke that utilization chain.
“By walking away from this community and their chip agreement with Paper Excellence,” she said, “Canfor has demonstrated that social license and support for local communities is not part of their mandate.”
She noted that currently “the forest industry is under the control of a few large companies,” and that changes in legislation must be made “to return control of the industry to the people of British Columbia.” With a provincial election coming up in 2021, she said, this must be made an election issue.
Reflecting the passion of everyone at the rally, several residents also stepped up to the podium to speak, emphasizing how they would continue to persevere in fighting for its future and that of their families. One woman pointed out that she could see many familiar people at the rally who helped build the town.
“We will not give up,” she said.
Another woman commented about how the people of Mackenzie loved living in the town and were resisting the pressures to move away to the big city. A retired worker talked about how his two daughters were going to lose their jobs if the pulp mill closes, and that his grandchildren would not have a legacy in the community if the government keeps allowing the big corporations to do what they’ve been doing.
“The logs don’t belong to Canfor and Jimmy Pattison [a billionaire and major shareholder in the corporation]. They belong to every man, woman and child in this community.”
Peter Ewart is a writer and community activist based in Prince George, BC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org Dawn Hemingway is a professor and activist also based in Prince George. She can be reached at: email@example.com