$69M in aid coming to beleaguered forestry workers in B.C.'s Interior

The province is stepping in with $69 million to aid thousands of laid off forestry workers in British Columbia's Interior who have been impacted by mill closures and shift reductions.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson made the announcement Tuesday morning in Prince George.

At least 22 Interior mills have either closed or curtailed operations this year due to a combination of forces, including the end of the mountain pine beetle harvest, wildfire devastation, high log costs and low prices due to a slumping U.S. market

"We recognize the urgency of the situation," said Donaldson.

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"As we journey together through this period of adjustment to the well predicted drop in the log supply due to the end of the pine beetle, these action items announced today will help support workers as we focus on a future where we maximize value for every log coming out of the publicly held forest lands, rather than maximizing volume."

Donaldson says the $69 million will be spent as follows:

  • $40 million for a cost-shared, early-retirement bridging program for older workers.
  • $15 million toward a short-term forest employment program focused on fire prevention and community resiliency projects.
  • $12 million for skills training and training grants.
  • $2 million to establish a new job placement co-ordination office to track the transition and employment of impacted forest workers.

Donaldson also called on the federal government and the forest industry itself to step up and do more.  

Steelworkers Union Local 1-2017 president Brian O'Rourke said the announcement is good news for workers but thinks the forest companies need to answer for their part, perhaps through the re-establishment of a jobs commissioner.

"More than anything, we need to take these forest companies to task — the ones that in our opinion are just closing down the mills and holding our members as hostages to try and get reductions in stumpage and other things," said O'Rourke.

"These mills are viable operations. There's timber in the areas, and the mills are still being shut down."

Andrew Kurjata/CBC

Stumpage is what companies pay the government for trees harvested from Crown land. 

Donaldson said the B.C. government is not considering opening up stumpage fees, despite calls from opposition Liberals to do so. He said lowering stumpage rates would only hurt the B.C. forest industry in international courts.