Premier John Horgan promoted his long-term strategy for the struggling B.C. forest industry in Prince George Wednesday, saying the province has to get out of a “boom and bust economy” that rises and falls with lumber prices.
Speaking to more than 1,000 community and industry leaders at the annual B.C. Natural Resources Forum Prince George, Horgan noted his long-term strategy to increase forest jobs began this week with the first of a series of round-table meetings with community and industry representatives in Mackenzie, one of the communities hardest hit by the current downturn.
“We’re going to be in other communities, Quesnel, Vanderhoof, wherever we can go to bring people together to find a way forward in forestry,” Horgan told reporters before his speech to the forum. “Prices are starting to come up. In a boom-and-bust economy, you need to have high prices, but that’s not the beginning and the end. We need to make sure that we’re always preparing for those down times by ensuring that we’re not just harvesting to get the forest down, we’re harvesting to get jobs in communities.”
Horgan acknowledged that government stumpage on Crown timber did not keep up with the rapid fall in lumber prices in 2019, but it has been sharply reduced for 2020. He said he is attempting to move away from a long tradition of logging for volume.
“It’s about a value in the British Columbia forest sector that was cultivated by Social Credit, by New Democrats, by Liberals, and that was to just harvest as much volume as you can, when you can,” Horgan said. “If we’re high-grading our forests to catch the market, that may be good for the short term, but the long-term view for the forest industry needs to be a long-term view. And that involves communities.”
The meetings were announced last spring as Horgan and Forests Minister Doug Donaldson were faced with a wave of sawmill shutdowns across the B.C. Interior, due to slumping prices, log costs and continued steep tariffs imposed by the U.S. government on Canadian softwood imports.
In December, Donaldson announced that new coastal log export fees were delayed for six months, and a program to reduce wood behind in coastal logging was also eased to reflect cost data from the industry on recovering more wood.
Logging has shut down across much of the B.C. coast and Vancouver Island, due to costs and a seven-month strike by the United Steelworkers against Western Forest Products.