Forestry roundtable in Fort St. John today

Political and business leaders in Northeast B.C. are meeting in Fort St. John today for a roundtable discussion on the province's struggling forestry sector.

The roundtable was called by Peace River North MLA Dan Davies, and comes in the wake of an indefinite curtailment at Peace Valley OSB in Fort St. John and a summer curtailment at Canfor's pulp mill in Taylor, as well as other growing cuts at mills across B.C.

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"At the end of the day, our hope is to pressure the governments, provincially and federally, on ways to help out these communities impacted by forestry's downturn right now," Davies said. "This is a crisis we're facing."

Among the guests at the roundtable are MLAs Mike Bernier and John Rustad, mayors and councillors from Fort St. John, Taylor, Hudson’s Hope, and the Northern Rockies, as well as representatives from the Peace River Regional District, School District 60, Louisiana Pacific, Canfor, among others.

Rustad, the opposition forestry critic for the BC Liberals, said the crisis facing forestry communities may not visible on a broad scale, but is having a big impact on the ground.

Government needs to take serious action quickly to get the industry back on its feet and keep it competitive globally, Rustad said.

“The uncompetitiveness of our industry leading to why we’ve taken curtailments,” Rustad said. “As an industry, B.C. needs to compete globally, but we have a structure in place today where we’re quite a bit behind most jurisdictions.”

For instance, there is a $50 per cubic metre cost difference for forestry products between B.C. and Alberta, Rustad said. Twenty dollars of that is for government overhead, with the other $30 tied to stumpage fees.

“That cost differential means if prices aren’t there, we’re going to go down and they’re going to stay operating,” Rustad said. “As we compete globally for market share, and we can’t deliver, if the Americans want it, they’ll go to Europe. 

“What should government do? What can government do? There are steps they can be taking right now frankly that would be helping the situation.”

Forestry employs more than 7,000 people in the Northeast, accounting for one in five jobs, and generates $422 million in worker incomes, $303 million in government revenues, and $579 million in total GDP.

Local governments play a big role in pressuring senior levels of government for action, Davies said. But, the province has yet to engage local governments or the forestry sector in a meaningful way to find solutions, he said.

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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