By PPWC President Arnold Berkov
Printed in the Province, April 10, 2018
Premier John Horgan and his team made a calculated decision going into last spring’s provincial election to focus on wooing urban voters, with an “affordability agenda” tailored to speak to financially stretched families about childcare, housing, healthcare and transportation.
The strategy worked, but left unaddressed the serious problems that confront working families outside of Greater Vancouver and Victoria.
For much of its last four of 16 consecutive years in office, the former Liberal government’s only commitments of note in the “rural hinterland” were a much-hyped promise of a Liquefied Natural Gas industry and to build the Site C dam.
Well, LNG never materialized. And Site C, while delivering jobs, remains mired in geotechnical problems that see far, far fewer workers on site than anticipated.
The Liberals failed to deliver and the result was job loss in rural regions.
This tough reality ought to provide an opening for the NDP, a chance to demonstrate that it understands that things aren’t right and that it has a solid plan for how to rectify the situation.
But to date, members of my union certainly haven’t seen it. And frankly, we’re worried by the government’s ongoing silence and seeming indifference to rural residents more generally and First Nations’ communities specifically.
The trends in the forest sector are particularly abysmal.
Log exports in the last four years of Liberal rule were the highest for an electoral cycle in B.C. history. The situation is poised to get far worse. Thousands of manufacturing jobs may be at stake. Worse, the export contagion appears to be strengthening in the Interior, which to date has been largely spared.
In February and March, Canfor Corporation and Tolko Industries announced back-to-back decisions to build new sawmills in southern U.S. states, committing a combined $235 million in investments.
Meanwhile, we have mills in the central Interior — the same region that was for decades Canfor’s and Tolko’s breadbasket — closing or curtailing operations. One of those mills — an oriented strand board mill in 100 Mile House — is poised to begin a shutdown due to a shortage of fibre. That’s 170 workers and members of my union off the job.
Yet there is abundant evidence that the massive volumes of usable wood being left behind at logging sites create unnecessary hardship for companies that could — and should — be using that wood, including the OSB mill in 100 Mile House.
It also includes pulp and paper mills that, with the right government support, could — and should — be producing a range of new bio-products that are green substitutes for traditional plastics that are fossil fuel-derived and bad for our climate.
Horgan and Forests Minister Doug Donaldson know all about this. But they have yet to come remotely close to articulating their vision for a way forward. Well we need that vision and we need it fast.
A vision that includes a true acknowledgement that B.C.’s forests have changed dramatically. There’s far fewer old trees, many more younger trees, and a whole lot more trees that are in real trouble thanks to climate change and mismanagement.
A vision that includes coherent policies to end log exports and ensure that “waste” wood isn’t burned by the drove as it is now and brought to market instead. This is how we hold onto the dwindling number of value-added mills we still have in B.C. and diversify what we produce.
A vision that commits funds to encourage companies to invest in new technologies to use wood in new ways. The federal government did that to incentivize pulp and paper companies to create more energy at their mills. The province could do the same to incentivize bioplastics production.
A vision that includes empowering communities to control more of the forests immediately surrounding them and that firmly address wildfire risks.
And a vision that gets serious about the government’s commitments to implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, one that includes making First Nations true partners in forest management and forest enterprises in this province.
Rural B.C. wants in. What is the premier’s plan?
Arnold Bercov is president of the Public and Private Workers of Canada