This week brought news of more mill closures and curtailments which are hurting workers, their families and our economy. Despite the situation worsening by the day, Premier John Horgan and the NDP government aren’t taking any action to help.
On Thursday, Louisiana Pacific announced an indefinite shutdown of its oriented strand board (OSB) mill in Fort St. John as of Aug. 9, putting at least 190 people out of work. On Tuesday, Norbord announced an indefinite curtailment of its OSB mill in 100 Mile House, which will affect nearly 160 employees. A day earlier, Canfor announced it was curtailing operations at all but one of its sawmills in British Columbia. The company has also shut down its mill in Vavenby, which will directly impact 172 employees and indirectly affect double to triple the number of contractors and other associated workers. Other curtailments have been announced by West Fraser, Tolko, Interfor, Aspen Planers, Teal Jones, and Western Forest Products.
Horgan and his government should be working to make the industry more competitive, but so far they are choosing to sit on their hands and do nothing while hundreds of British Columbians find themselves either out of work or facing reduced shifts. This government needs to address the many pressures the industry is facing including rising production costs, falling lumber prices and a lack of fibre supply.
The Opposition has suggested the government immediately reduce stumpage fees and the carbon tax on the forestry sector, including contractors and others dependent on the industry, until market conditions stabilize. It has also recommended the government establish a forestry competitiveness committee, focused on how we can ensure a healthy sector in the short- and long-term.
It’s worth noting the premier himself personally failed on the softwood lumber front, after promising two years ago that he would intervene and be actively involved in negotiations for a deal. So far, we’ve seen no progress. What we have seen, however, is the NDP’s insistence on piling even more burdens onto the industry at the worst possible time. The government passed its flawed Bill 22 during the spring Legislative session, adding more regulation and red tape for companies that are already struggling. The NDP has also refused to back down on the long list of new and increased taxes it has imposed, further impacting the industry’s ability to be competitive and successful.
There are so many communities, many of them small and rural, that depend on these forestry jobs to remain viable. You look at a place like Vavenby with a population of about 700 people, where the mill was the major employer, and realize the devastating impact that its closure will have on its residents and their livelihoods.
It’s a heartbreaking situation that we don’t want to see repeated elsewhere — but sadly, that will be the reality if the government doesn’t act now to bring down what are the highest production costs in North America.
Greg Kyllo is the Liberal MLA for Shuswap.