B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson in his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 28, 2019. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. forest industry aid on the way, Doug Donaldson says

Layoffs focus of B.C. legislature’s final day of 2019

Community job coordination offices are opening to help B.C. Interior forest workers laid off in the industry downturn, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson says.

Donaldson spoke to Black Press Thursday, after a raucous last day of the B.C. legislature session where he was again pressed for action on logging and sawmill shutdowns across the province. Opposition critics reported multiple cases where forestry-dependent families are looking at a bleak Christmas season.

The assistance office in 100 Mile House has opened, and others are preparing to open in Clearwater, Fort St. James, Mackenzie and Fort St. John, he said.

“That’s to give direct one-to-one service for workers, trying to connect them with retraining opportunities, and the other four are on their way to being opened,” Donaldson said.

For workers who are looking for retirement rather than retraining, there have been more than 500 applications so far to a retirement bridging program that offers up to $75,000 for qualifying workers. It’s open to full-time mill workers who are 55 or older, have worked in a mill for the last two consecutive years, and meet other criteria.

“It’s a $40 million program over two years, so it takes a little while to implement,” Donaldson said. “We have more than 500 applications in, and they’re being dealt with on an individual basis.”

For loggers who have been idled, the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C. is delivering a $27 million program to reduce fire risk and improve forest health by removing burned trees or wood debris.

“Some of the contracts that have been awarded in the Cariboo, for instance, $707,000 to Cariboo Pulp and Paper for bringing in about 74,000 cubic metres of wood out near 100 Mile House,” Donaldson said. “In Cariboo North, $160,000 to Barkerville Historic Town and Park to bring about 9,000 cubic metres out.”

In the legislature, Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond called for action on one of the latest layoffs, 50 people including mechanics, welders and hauling contractors for Western Canadian Timber Products in the Fraser Valley. The problem cited by this and other employers is stumpage rates are too high, she said.

“That’s exactly the same for first nations woodland tenures as well, which is why nobody is operating on them at the moment,” Bond said. “It’s all talk and no action.”

RELATED: Canfor adds Christmas closure to B.C. forestry woes

RELATED: Stumpage blamed for Fraser Valley logger layoffs

Donaldson noted that stumpage, the province’s fee for Crown timber, was reduced Oct. 1 by 12 per cent for Interior forests and 24 per cent for Coastal logs, to reflect a sharp decline in lumber prices this year. Additional reductions would only raise more protests from U.S. “lumber barons,” who have called B.C. stumpage rates a subsidy in the current trade dispute and previous ones.

Donaldson said he scheduled to meet next week with Seamus O’Regan, the new federal natural resources minister. He will be asking Ottawa for “flexibility” in its Employment Insurance rules to make more laid-off workers eligible for payments.

“With the different curtailments we’ve had this year, some might not have been able to acquire the number of weeks required for EI eligibility,” Donaldson said. “That’s something the federal government has looked at before.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Edibles now offered in Fernie cannabis shops

As of October 17, 2019, almost a year after the official legalization… Continue reading

SAR picks up two sledders after night spent outside

Fernie and Sparwood Search and Rescue (SAR) were called to action on… Continue reading

Community Appreciation Day at FAR

A thick blanket of snow fell on skiers and snowboarders alike on… Continue reading

The Fernie Hotel to host bushfire fundraiser

Putting a charitable spin on your typical Sunday Funday this weekend at The Fernie Hotel

Jumbo Valley to be protected, ending decades-long dispute over proposed ski resort

Development rights permanently retired for site of proposed year-round ski resort west of Invermere

‘Like an ATM’: World’s first biometric opioid-dispensing machine launches in B.C.

First-of-its-kind dispensing machine unveiled in the Downtown Eastside with hopes of curbing overdose deaths

Hwy 3 to close for avalanche control on Jan. 19

The road is expected to be closed from noon to 3 p.m.

RDEK calls for Volunteer of the Year nominations

The Regional District of East Kootenay is seeking nominations for the 2020… Continue reading

Canucks extend home win streak to 8 with 4-1 triumph over Sharks

Victory lifts Vancouver into top spot in NHL’s Pacific Division

BC Green Party leader visits northern B.C. pipeline protest site

Adam Olsen calls for better relationship between Canada, British Columbia and First Nations

‘Extensive’ work planned at Big Bar landslide ahead of salmon, steelhead migration

Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan visited the site of the slide from June

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

Royal deal clears way for Harry, Meghan part-time Canada move: experts

Keith Roy of the Monarchist League of Canada said the deal is exactly what Harry and Meghan asked for

Most Read