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Mill owner protests log export change
VICTORIA – A member of the B.C. government's Timber Export Advisory Committee has resigned so he can speak out about what he calls a disastrous policy mistake for the south coastal sawmill industry.
David Gray's Mill and Timber Products Ltd. owns two mills in Metro Vancouver. Smallwood Sawmill in the Port Kells industrial area of Surrey has been shut down for a year and a half, and Flavelle Sawmill in Port Moody is running at half capacity.
Gray says that is due to a lack of logs, primarily from Vancouver Island.
Gray said Thursday "it may be too late" for his operations, after a January decision by B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson to change the way B.C. regulates Crown land log exports on the south coast and Vancouver Island.
What the government billed as a minor administrative change is "the straw that broke the camel's back" for B.C. mills bidding on logs against aggressive log buyers in China, Gray said. The change allows Vancouver Island log producers to count the cost of transporting logs to Metro Vancouver as part of the the domestic log price, in effect giving them the green light to export more logs to Asian buyers who pay $20 to $30 more per cubic metre of wood.
Gray said his mills can compete on a level playing field, but not against a Chinese government that has made a policy decision to buy up logs at whatever price it takes to keep its vast workforce employed.
"It's a government decision on the other side, and it's an abdication by our government of the policies that have been in place for 100 years," Gray told a news conference at the B.C. legislature Thursday, organized by NDP forests critic Norm Macdonald.
Thomson announced in January that B.C. was increasing its log export fee by 20 per cent for south coast logs, but that increase amounts to less than $2 a cubic metre for a typical sale.
Macdonald and Thomson resumed their debate about log exports in the legislature's question period Thursday, where Macdonald noted that log exports have climbed to six million cubic meters a year under B.C. Liberal policy.
Thomson responded that the NDP has refused to disclose what it would do to curtail log exports, and what the cost would be in logging jobs.
The Coastal Forest Products Association and the Truck Loggers Association argue that one profitable export log allows companies to bring out two lower-grade logs for sale to domestic mills.
Gray said lobbying by those two organizations has caused the B.C. government to shift away from protecting B.C. mills.
"There's an unspoken presumption that manufacturing is yesterday's thing, and we should just go back to logging and exporting logs," he said.