Okanagan MLA’s met with forestry critic John Rustad in Kelowna Thursday to discuss the social impact and economic shock of the forestry crisis.
Rustad says thousand of jobs are being cut and lumber mills are closing down either temporarily or permanently, due to the industry’s precarious state.
“The government needs to step up to the plate and recognize that this is an issue, instead of saying it’s not their problem,” said Rustad.
Some of the solutions discussed was changing the forestry stumpage system to mirror Alberta’s strategy.
“We could be doing monthly adjustments which would drive a significant change and it’s an immediate step the government could be taking,” Rustad said.
Stumpage is a reflection of log prices and market conditions and right now it adjusts once a year as a major adjustment and then quarterly updates: Rustad said if it was adjusted monthly it accurately reflects what is currently happening in the markets opposed to the delay we have right now.
“That would help drive down the costs of lumber,” said Rustad.
Another topic of discussion was on cost structure and competition: “We have become the least competitive out of the most expensive in the most expensive industry in North America, so anytime there is some softness in the market, we’re going to be the first ones to feel it.”
“We cannot look at just the industry, we need to recognize the ripple effect these closures will have,” Kelowna and Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick said. “One in seventeen jobs in B.C. are tied to the forestry industry, directly and indirectly.”
According to Letnick, the United Way has already written to Premier Horgan with a request for $3 million to begin funding social resources for communities affected by industry shortages.
“The NDP needs to act before it’s too late,” Letnick said.
The president of the Interior Lumber Manufacturers’ Association agreed that the industry is plummeting and the cost of lumber is playing a huge role in mill closures and job cuts.
“It’s really hard on mill workers, especially the small family-run businesses where they have to cut jobs and families are suffering,” the association’s president, Dan Battistella, said.
He said when mills shut down, it hurts contractors because they are losing their supplier.
Tolko Industries in Kelowna announced this week they are taking some “downtime” from Aug. 6 to Sept. 15, 2019 because of the increasing cost of logs and weak market conditions.
Around 140 employees are off work because of the temporary closure.
“We can’t wait while John Horgan’s government remains inactive on yet another mill closure,” Steve Thomson, MLA for Kelowna-Mission and former forestry minister, said. “This is a difficult time for everyone and our community needs to know their government is listening.”