Mill workers and forest industry staff call on B.C. for policy change amid closures

Job losses are mounting as mills close across British Columbia and some of the thousands of people affected are wondering what the province is doing the help them.  

Teal-Jones Group announced earlier this week that it's shutting down its operations on Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley, which means lay-offs for some 300 loggers and mounting uncertainty for another 500 mill employees — people like Leif Lynum, who's been in the forestry industry for 42 years. 

"I've done this my whole life," Lynum said.  

"The idea that I'll be able to go find a job in another saw mill or the industry is probably unlikely."

And when that happens, he said he doesn't know what he'll do. 

"At 58 years old, I'll have to start looking for something new to do," he said. 

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Widespread closures

B.C. has been plagued by a series of mill curtailments and closures over the past few months, affecting nearly 6,000 workers at at 25 different mills across the province. 

According to the companies, the closures are due to low lumber prices, high operating costs and dwindling timber supplies.

But Liberal forestry critic John Rustad said there are policies the government can introduce to the help the struggling industry. 

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"There is an over abundance of regulations and pain that has to be gone through in terms of trying to get permits … or it's things like the employee health tax or the carbon tax," Rustad said.

"They could take steps today to try to reduce some of those costs to help us be more competitive."

Susan Yurkovich , president of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries, said the solution is timely access to fibre so companies have a chance to compete. 

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Yukovich said she believes the future is bright for the forest industry and there will "absolutely" still be mills running in the province — but there will be changes. 

"Right now, we're in a place where the industry is transitioning," she said. "But this is a very difficult transition." 

The provincial government says it is taking action and providing supports like job fairs and skills training to those affected, as well as looking for ways to diversity as fibre supply declines. 

But for mill workers like Lynum, the future is uncertain.

"It doesn't appear to me, from my point of view, that they really want [the forest industry] to live," said Lynum.

"It feels like they are working on the other team."