EDITORIAL: Does the cost of labour price us out of some markets?

Local Green Party candidate Glenn Sollitt not happy with the amount of raw logs we ship off Vancouver Island

Glenn Sollitt and the federal Green Party have got this one right. Almost.

Sollitt, the Green Party candidate for the Courtenay-Alberni riding, sent us a letter to the editor last week, extolling the value of Vancouver Island sawmills. More accurately, Sollitt was railing against raw-log exports.

Our sister paper, the Alberni Valley Times, had a front-page story by Eric Plummer last week that revealed the fact that 480,000 cubic metres of raw logs were exported to overseas sawmills from Port Alberni last year.

In 2014, Plummer reported, the Port Alberni Port Authority said 53 vessels loaded with raw logs left the city, while just 13 ships carried lumber oversees.

Undoubtedly, those raw logs come back to us in the form of manufactured goods. The countries that buy those logs are the ones that get the benefit of the jobs. We get to buy expensive kitchen tables made somewhere else.

On the surface it looks like bad business, plain and simple.

When will Canada stop being the drawers of water and hewers of wood for the world?

We believe Vancouver Island companies would do more with our resources if there was a profit to be had. We cannot expect companies to lose money or break even just for the sake of some principal. Profit is not a dirty word.

So, why are we shipping so many raw logs? Our guess is we have priced ourselves out of the market. We cannot compete with companies in other countries that pay their workers much less than what is expected here. To make a chair out of that raw log, it may cost $100 here, $10 in some foreign country.

The decision to ship raw logs rather than manufacturing products here is not about corporate greed. It’s fairly simple math.

Candidates from the Green Party or the NDP may say they are against raw-log exports, but they are loathe to face the real issue, the elephant in the room: the high cost of labour in this country. Weeks of holidays, benefits, $20/hour or more, 7.5/hour shifts — this is why we have to ship raw logs overseas.

These wages and benefits, etc. are the result of hard-fought battles over the years and those jobs continue to contribute to the relatively high quality of life we enjoy in this country. But they also eliminate us from participation in some sectors.

— Editorial by John Harding

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