Northern Mayors Appeal for Federal Help as Forestry Crisis Deepens
[COVER PHOTO CREDIT: Rebecca Dyok, MyCaribooNow]
As mill closures and curtailments multiply, a group of 21 northern BC mayors and regional district leaders have written to the federal government, requesting immediate help.
The mayors say the forest industry, which has supplied employment for generations in the province, is being challenged on numerous fronts.
They say timber supply was drastically reduced by the mountain pine beetle infestation and two consecutive years of devastating wildfires, and the latest Softwood Lumber dispute with the U-S is adding to the misery.
And they want the Trudeau government to help support communities and workers in transition.
But BC Liberal Forestry Critic John Rustad says the provincial government has a role to play here too.
The Nechako Lakes MLA says the NDP government in Victoria isn't doing enough to help, forcing the mayors to turn to Ottawa for assistance.
"They're going around the provincial government because there isn't the response coming from the provincial government; we've seen the United Way send a letter directly to the premier begging for some resources because of the mental health and stress issues that are happening in communities that are being impacted by forestry; I just can't understand why government doesn't understand the challenges that are being faced by families, the contractors, the workers and it really is a shame considering that forestry is such a backbone of so many communities in this province," said Rustad.
But Forests Minister Doug Donaldson, who's also the MLA for Stikine, says the BC Liberals knew this crisis was coming when they were still in government, and even commissioned a study four years ago which predicted as many as 13 mills could shut down due to the decrease in pine beetle wood -- and yet they did nothing to address the problem.
"If the Liberals had undertaken measures that they knew needed to be taken, we would be a lot further down the road and communities wouldn't be suffering so much pain -- we're putting resources into communities to help workers and also we've started interior forest renewal process -- that could have been started four years ago but we're starting it now to make sure that people are engaged around the future of forestry around policy decisions, around landscape level decisions -- we want ideas," Donaldson said.
But he says first and foremost, the provincial government's focus is on the workers, their families and communities.
On Thursday, Sinclar Group Forest Products announced two-week curtailments at its sawmill operations in Prince George, Vanderhoof and Fort St. James -- starting August 19th.
The company blames the move on market conditions.