Liberals fail Interior communities struggling with timber shortages, mill closures

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VANCOUVER – Despite knowledge of shrinking timber supply, the Liberals have failed to set up the means to help forestry communities recover from mill closures that shatter their local economies, say the New Democrats.

“The Liberals were aware that conditions were ripe for further mill closures, like we’re seeing in Quesnel and Houston,” says New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix. “Their own ministry has been talking about declining availability of timber for years, as the pine beetle epidemic raged on.

“And they know that these communities will not be the only ones to suffer from this kind of economic devastation. But this government still has not put into place concrete measures to help forestry communities transition through the mid-term timber supply shortage.”

“The New Democrats are recommending that for immediate purposes this government put into place a community economic transition team to help Quesnel and Houston. The loss of these mills spell significant jobs losses, direct and indirect, that can destabilize the towns,” said Dix. “For the long term, a standing community economic transition office, like a jobs protection commissioner, should be established to help other forestry towns that will likely face similar circumstances.”

With the multiplier from spin-off jobs, the impact of the closures in Quesnel alone could reach more than 1,000 jobs, and another 1,200 in Houston. With a population of just over 3,000 in Houston, that job loss could be devastating

New Democrat forest critic Norm Macdonald said the overarching problem is the lack of a strategy to get the best possible use out of our timber resources.

“The Liberals blame the pine beetle as if they are surprised we’d have less fiber to use,” said Macdonald. “Just last week, the forest minister was claiming they had a strategy to increase value-added manufacturing, but that’s simply not true, and a big part of the problem.

“Independent experts – including the Forest Practices Board,  the auditor general and industry leaders themselves have warned the government to expect these kinds of mill closures,” said Macdonald.

“That the Liberals did nothing to prepare for those closures is an absolute failure of leadership by this government. That should be the role of government – to help communities in transition.”

That companies are struggling to access fiber while six million cubic metres of raw logs are exported shows the government has no plan to get smart about the use of our declining timber stocks.

Macdonald said the government must also be looking down the road to help prevent further mill closures and mitigate the impacts of the timber shortage on other Interior communities.

“The creation of a jobs protection commissioner could provide a consistent and systematic economic transition for these kinds of forestry-dependent communities,” said Macdonald.

Dix and Macdonald also expressed their sympathies for the affected families and communities.