Even though NDP forest critic Norm MacDonald co-chaired the Special Committee on Timber Supply and a signatory to it, he used its release to slam Liberal forest policies.
“British Columbia’s forests represent a trillion-dollar asset that the B.C. Liberals have been badly mismanaging for over a decade,” said Macdonald. “Under the Liberal government’s watch, more than 35,000 jobs in the forest sector have been lost and dozens of mills have closed forever.”
The timber supply report, released, makes 22 recommendations to government to try and mitigate an expected reduction of 10 million cubic metres of timber harvest in the interior over the next 20 years, as a result of the mountain pine beetle infestation.
“Many of the recommendations in the committee’s report could help reverse some of the damage caused by the failed Liberal forest policy,” MacDonald said. “They reflect many of the changes Adrian Dix and the New Democrats have been advocating for years, and would help address forest health, protect jobs and create better value out of our forest industry.”
An impetus for the committee was the January explosion and fire at the Babine Forest Products mill in Burns Lake, which killed two workers and closed the mill indefinitely as its owner, Hampton Affiliates, wants access to more fibre in order to re-open.
“The people of Burns Lake should not have been forced to wait seven months for recommendations,” said Macdonald. “The crisis in Burns Lake brought into focus two clear failings. First, the B.C. Liberals have no mechanism to assist and support communities in transition due to a crisis within the industry.
Macdonald said the recommendations must be accepted by government and their implementation must begin immediately.
The United Steelworkers (USW) union is supporting the report.
“The Special Legislative Committee’s report is thorough and we congratulate committee members for their work on this complicated and highly-politicized issue,” said USW Wood Council Chair Bob Matters. “We are pleased that the committee understands the importance of the working forest and forest industry jobs and, in particular, their recommendations to help secure fibre to ensure that there is, once again, an operating sawmill in Burns Lake following the tragic explosion of the Babine sawmill.”
He agreed with MacDonald, however, in that the situation is indictment of Liberal forest policy.
The USW specifically cites the legislative committee’s assertions that proper timber inventories have not been done, and that many of the recommendations could have been implemented months ago in the case of Burns Lake had there still been a formal process to deal with communities in crisis, such as the former Jobs Protection Commissioner.
“Unlike some observers, when there is a community tragedy such as the Babine mill explosion, the MLAs on the committee, our members and most British Columbians agree that there is a role for government to help mitigate the economic and social impacts,” said USW Local 1-424 President Frank Everitt, who represents the workers who were thrown out of work when the mill was destroyed.
“We are pleased that some measures are being taken to secure fibre to help ensure a rebuild of the mill, but this process took far too long for our members and the communities involved.
In particular, the USW supports recommendations to: update timber inventories; better manage “not sufficiently restocked” (NSR) areas and increase fertilization and silviculture to increase harvestable timber volumes; encourage the harvest of economically marginal timber areas; provide timber and opportunities to First Nations; and to re-establish monitoring committees to oversee and update Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) following a proper, inclusive process at the local level.
The United Steelworkers are also encouraged that the committee made recommendations that look to the future, such as increased skills training for the resource industry workforce and protecting the working forest through better forest health programs and reduced wild fire risk.