Coastal loggers to quiz candidates

Logging and roadbuilding equipment awaits auction on Vancouver Island in the fall of 2009. Coastal logging has begun to recover since the low point that saw some companies fold or consolidate due to poor market conditions.

VICTORIA – B.C. Liberal candidates have been invited to the Truck Loggers’ Association convention in Victoria Wednesday for a discussion about the future of the coastal forest industry.

Premier Gordon Campbell will make his final address to the 68th annual convention at a noon luncheon on Wednesday, and Forests Minister Pat Bell starts the day with a morning forecast for the continued recovery of coastal logging and international markets.

The TLA is made up of independent logging contractors on the B.C. coast, and the picture has brightened from 2009 when membership fell from a high of 550 companies to 400, mostly due to companies consolidating or closing. The recovery is thanks in large part to log and lumber exports to China.

TLA executive director Dave Lewis says at the 2009 low point, only half of the annual allowable cut on the coast was being harvested. That has recovered to about 75 per cent of the allowable cut, reflecting a nearly 10-fold increase in Chinese purchases since 2003.

Leadership candidates George Abbott, Mike de Jong and Moira Stilwell are expected to take part in a natural resources forum hosted by the TLA Wednesday evening at the Victoria Conference Centre. Kevin Falcon and Christy Clark have prior campaign commitments, although Falcon intends to attend part of the two-day convention.

With less efficient coastal sawmills unable to compete on price for dimension lumber with B.C. Interior and foreign producers, the TLA has long advocated easing rules on log exports. Federal rules call for a “surplus test” in which logs must be offered for sale to domestic producers before being exported, and sold domestically even if the price is lower than the export price.

The practice has been a focus of U.S. producers in their long series of trade actions against Canadian log and lumber prices.