Louisiana Pacific has announced it is temporarily shutting down its oriented strandboard mill at Fort St. John B.C., while continuing production at its Grande Prairie, Alberta plant. Norbord has announced its 100 Mile House OSB plant is closing indefinitely. (Wikimedia Commons)

LETTER: British Columbia’s forest industry crisis being made worse

Andrew Wilkinson warns of regulatory overload by John Horgan’s NDP

In the past few weeks we’ve seen shift curtailments, mill slowdowns, and complete shutdowns across the province. The fact that Canfor – one of the companies to announce cutbacks – is only curtailing its operations in B.C., not in Alberta or any U.S. state, should be a red flag for Premier John Horgan.

Couple that with the fact that NDP policies are being imposed on forestry-dependent communities without consultation and that the industry lost 6,600 jobs between 2017 and 2018, and it’s hard to deny that B.C. is in a crisis. As recent weeks have shown, 2019 is shaping up to be even worse.

Horgan needs to immediately start working with the forestry communities that are paying the price for his government’s irresponsible policies. I’ve written him a letter asking for him to take action, starting now.

The NDP needs to engage right away with the federal government to look at supports for impacted workers and their families. My suggestion is to ensure workers and contractors who have lost their jobs or had their hours cut have first access to work on wildfire mitigation projects.

RELATED: B.C. forest companies get first test for new licence rules

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The NDP needs to make amends and engage with forestry companies and unions to start regaining British Columbia’s competitiveness. This should include an immediate reduction on stumpage fees and the carbon tax on the forestry industry. The Premier also needs to establish an all-party industry competitiveness committee to ensure a healthy sector now and in the future.

Meanwhile, Horgan and the NDP are sitting on their hands as our forest industry bleeds jobs in every corner of the province. They seem intent on ignoring those red flags or even acknowledging that their policies, such as Bill 22, which effectively gives the government a veto over cutting rights transfers between forest companies, are failing an entire sector of our economy.

More than 140 forestry-dependent communities and countless small businesses are feeling the pressure as Horgan has made British Columbia the jurisdiction with the highest production costs on the continent.

In the 1990s, the NDP brought in the Forest Practices Code, which strangled the forestry industry with red tape and made us one of the highest-cost producers of timber in the world. The NDP’s previous mistakes added $1.8 billion per year to the forestry sector’s production costs and now they are at it again.

Bill 22 was only introduced a month ago, after zero industry consultation, and since then we have already witnessed the announcement of imminent closures or indefinite shutdowns of four mills. Tolko’s Quesnel sawmill, Canfor’s Vavenby sawmill, Norbord’s 100 Mile House oriented strandboard mill and Louisiana Pacific’s Peace Valley OSB mill, along with announcements of production curtailments or downtime at more than 30 other Interior mills.

This is absolutely unacceptable to hard-working British Columbians. Countless families rely on the forestry industry to put food on their tables and support their children. The fact that Horgan is making tough times even harder by creating greater industry uncertainty and burdening companies with more red tape and higher taxes is a slap in the face to every one of those families.

We have reached the point where it no longer makes economic sense to do business here. The NDP needs to govern for the entire province, not just their union and insider friends in Victoria and the Lower Mainland.

In 2016, under the B.C. Liberal government, we had nearly 60,000 direct forestry jobs. In just two years under the NDP, that number has dropped to around 50,000, with many more indirect jobs lost as well. The numbers for 2019 are only going to get worse while the NDP continues down this path.

Andrew Wilkinson, MLA, Vancouver-Quilchena, B.C. Liberal Leader

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