Provincial crisis response team coming to Prince George as 300 pulp mill jobs set to be lost

 Canfor says the closure of its pulp line in Prince George will result in the loss of 300 jobs and the reduction of 280,000 tonnes of market kraft pulp annually. (CBC News - image credit)
Canfor says the closure of its pulp line in Prince George will result in the loss of 300 jobs and the reduction of 280,000 tonnes of market kraft pulp annually. (CBC News - image credit)

B.C. Premier David Eby says he is deploying a crisis response team to Prince George to support workers losing their jobs at a Canfor pulp mill.

The company announced Wednesday an estimated 300 jobs will be gone by the end of the year as it closes its pulp line at the Prince George Pulp and Paper mill.

"This is obviously devastating news for those 300 individuals who have lost their jobs and for their families. These are people with mortgages, car payments.

"It's an incredibly stressful time for them and for the whole community in Prince George," Eby said, adding that the transition team will help workers losing their jobs with access to benefits the government has established, including training, transition to retirement or other supports.

Chuck LeBlanc, a union representative for those employed at the mill, says workers were "all in shock" at the news but said it had long been expected that a pulp mill in the Interior would shut down as raw fibre available to supply it declined.

"I think in the backs of our mind, we knew that at some point, one of these mills was going to go down," he said. "Unfortunately, it is our mill."

Decline in forest industry provincewide

Several sawmills in B.C. have been curtailing their operations around the province, reducing the amount of wood chips and fibre material available for use at pulp mills, which process products for the creation of paper and cardboard products.

Canfor president and CEO Kevin Edgeson said with the loss of that fibre, there was a need to "right-size" their operations.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The pulp line at the mill will wind down by the end of March, with 300 jobs expected to be lost by the end of the year.

LeBlanc said that represents roughly 20 per cent of the total number of pulp mill workers Canfor has in Prince George, as people will continue to be employed at Northwood Pulp Mill, Intercontinental Pulp, as well as a specialty paper facility at the Pulp and Paper mill where the job losses are taking place.

LeBlanc said while he is hopeful affected workers will be able to find other jobs, he expected to see fallout in the wider community.

"These are fairly high-paying jobs ... and that's going to have a real direct impact."

City in transition

Joel McKay, CEO of the economic development organization Northern Development Initiative Trust, said he would expect up to 900 additional jobs to be lost as a result of the closure, for a total of 1,200.

"It is significant," he said.

However, he pointed out the city of close to 90,000 people is better equipped to handle the loss than it would have been in the 1980s or 1990s.

Historically, Prince George was a forestry town, but over the past three decades, it has diversified to be a governance, education and service centre for northern B.C. as a whole, as well as a major transportation and distribution hub.

Nadia Mansour/CBC
Nadia Mansour/CBC

Mayor Simon Yu said while it will be difficult for the people affected by the cuts, he is hopeful the jobs can be recovered as the city grows and continues its expansion into other industries.

"Prince George is too important to rely on just one industry," he said.

Yu said many of the people employed by Canfor would be skilled workers who are in demand in other industries in the region.

He also expressed hope that those unable to find immediate employment would be able to transition to new lines of work in the city.

But his immediate thoughts were with those trying to figure out what comes next for them and their families.

"It's one of the saddest days that I've experienced over all the years that I've been in Prince George."