Forest minister makes secret deal to export wood chips, kill B.C. jobs

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VICTORIA – New Democrats are demanding to know why Forest Minister Steve Thomson made a secret 10-year sweetheart deal to export wood chips over the objections of his own advisory committee.

“This deal contravenes the Forest Act, it was done in secret and, after the advisory panel found out about it, the minister ignored their advice,” said New Democrat forest critic Norm Macdonald. “It’s outrageous that the Liberals would make this long-term secret deal before the election.”

On Jan. 30, without fanfare or even a press release, Thomson signed an Order in Council granting a 10-year export permit for 300,000 bone-dry units (slightly more than 300,000 tonnes) of wood chips. It wasn’t until mid-March that the Chip Export Advisory Committee consumers’ sub-committee learned of the order, which was handled outside of normal procedures.

The order also appears to violate the Forest Act, which says that chips can only be exported if they’re surplus to B.C.’s needs. Pulp mills and bio-energy companies are regularly in the market for fiber.

Merl Fichtner, chair of the sub-committee, said in an April 19 letter to Thomson that the length of the deal was the biggest area of concern. He said with a looming timber shortage, it’s “impossible to determine today that a volume of chips will be surplus to the requirements of facilities in British Columbia over the next 10 years.”

“This deal stinks to high heaven,” said Macdonald, who raised the issue in Question Period Thursday in the legislature. “Those are jobs being exported from B.C., with the explicit consent of the minister of forests.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure we get the most value possible out of our resources, but the Liberals are content to ship B.C. jobs offshore. I’m guessing the minister wanted to keep this deal secret because it’s embarrassing just how bad a deal this is for British Columbia.”

View a copy of the letter here.