Since 2001, over 35,000 forest-sector jobs have been lost, including some 12,000 in our region alone. Most recently, here in Kamloops, Domtar announced plans to layoff 125 workers, and Merritt lost 55 jobs at a mill that had operated for 50 years. Why has our forest industry declined so precipitously under the B.C. Liberals?
A recent article in The Daily News failed to mention a key element in the erosion of B.C.’s forest industry, namely the misguided B.C. Liberal policy of vastly increasing raw log exports. For example, to help feed its voracious appetite for natural resources; B.C. has increased raw log exports to China from 93,555 cubic metres in 2006 to 1,136,901 cubic metres in 2010 — a 12-fold increase in four years! In 2011, we exported a record total of 5.5 million cubic metres of raw logs.
This kills jobs by eliminating manufacturing opportunities. Some 16 per cent of all the logs exported in 2011 were high-value Douglas fir which could have supported a new generation of B.C. sawmills. Wholesale log exports also kill jobs by distorting the price structure for B.C. timber. Foreign buyers can afford to pay a significant premium for relatively-small volumes of high quality wood. Local mills don’t have that luxury; they must buy all their wood here in B.C. and can’t afford to pay artificially-high prices.
We have an abundant supply of timber, more than Ontario and Quebec. Yet surprisingly, they have stronger forestry employment numbers than we do despite having lower logging rates. This is because B.C. has steadily fallen behind in the production of value-added forest products, opting instead to gamble our unprocessed resource away.
The Timber Export Advisory Committee, the government’s own watchdog advisory group, has been overruled more than 100 times by the Liberal Forests Minister. It had clearly identified B.C. mills that were short of fiber but was ignored by the Minister. His authorization of the massive export of locally-needed timber stands as an indictment to Liberal forest policy.
Although it may neither be possible, nor desirable, to completely eliminate all raw log exports, increased investment in value-added processing and manufacturing would result in greater positive environmental and economic benefits. The Liberals’ attitude is that B.C. is helpless in the face of global markets and changing demand. This is patently untrue. It’s not ideas, skills, knowledge or work ethic we lack, it’s the political will. It’s about time we created more B.C. forest sector jobs using B.C. forest resources.