Unsurprisingly, one of the major topics discussed at the Oct. 13 All-Candidates Forum at the Tidemark Theatre was the forestry sector.
As one of the main economic drivers of the region – both historically and currently – forestry has been in the forefront of the discussion in recent years as labour disputes, mill curtailments and shutdowns, stumpage fees, forest management practices, raw log exports and other factors have divided the public and caused financial hardship for many in our area and across B.C.
Each of the candidates had different views on what is needed to support the industry going forward.
BC Liberal candidate Norm Facey, who comes from a forestry background, says NDP government policies have led to a major downturn in the industry.
“Under the NDP, since the start of 2019, there have been 45 full or partial mill closures in B.C.,” Facey says. “Over 10,000 workers have lost their jobs in the B.C. forestry industry. Instead of supporting our forestry-dependent families and communities, the NDP canceled the rural dividend fund, eliminating much-needed assistance to smaller communities.”
Facey says a Liberal government would “introduce legislation to protect the working forest to provide increased certainty on the land base while protecting and enhancing environmental values. We will implement a more efficient, effective and responsive market price dumping system to help keep our industry competitive, work with industry to modernize forest management practices ensure the B.C. forest industry is no longer the highest-cost producer in North America and will increase investments in silviculture to enhance the province’s tree planting efforts and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
BC NDP candidate Michele Babchuk says she’s proud of the way the NDP government has managed the province’s forestry interests over the past 3.5 years, but admits that more needs to be done.
“You know, with the Liberal government, we saw processing go down, harvesting go down, employment go down, and the only thing that went up was raw log exports,” Babchuk says. The NDP, however, Babchuk says, “has developed the coastal sector forest initiative that talks about processing at home, taking some of that fiber off of the forest floor and giving it back to those domestic mills. In March of 2020, over 30 mills in B.C. started back up. And we need to continue to do that and look at that on the North Island as we renew this forest sector. And also tie into it an old growth management strategy that takes a look at how we actually manage all of the fiber in our forest.”
BC Green Party candidate Alexandra Morton says a Green government would ban the export of raw logs – as well as the logging of old-growth forests – and prioritize forestry companies that “keep their profits local, inspiring more sawmills to be built in the area, so that for each tree fallen, there are more profits going to the local communities.”
“I think when you look at the forest industry, it’s been too stratified,” Morton says. “There’s the government, and then there’s the large companies serving shareholders, then there’s the contractors, and then there’s workers. So I think there are too many levels. So we would localize it, work with community forest plans, work with First Nations to reconnect them to their territories, because they are a government that is solely locally focused. And, from that, then take sawmills and other value-added small businesses and really work with them, so that for every tree that is fallen, there are more jobs rather than less,” Morton says, adding that she feels the mechanization of the industry is “removing the jobs in the forest.”
BC Conservative candidate John Twigg, meanwhile, says the issues of old-growth logging and raw log exports aren’t so black and white.
“I’m not totally opposed to raw log exports and I’m not totally opposed to logging in old-growth, but they have to be done selectively and intelligently,” Twigg says. “Not massive clearcuts. We need to preserve biodiversity and the genetics of the forests. Yes, I’m supportive of the forest industry and of logging, but we need to to it with more care about the impacts on the future,” adding that he believes that selective logging and better forest management practices can once again make the forest industry “the largest industry in B.C.”
He would also like to see more job creation in terms of reforestation efforts to keep the industry sustainable.