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.

BC legislature

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

Just Posted

No Treat Trail in downtown Vernon this Halloween

The popular event has been cancelled due to gathering restrictions amid COVID-19

Armstrong flower shop says goodbye to beloved florist

Susan Hayes is retiring after 23 years at the Armstrong Flower and Gift Shoppe

Creative thinkers wanted for North Okanagan hackathon

Talent-themed hackathon will take place at the VIEW in Vernon Oct. 29

Child care planned for Vernon schools

Proposal for four facilities at area elementary sites

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

Interior Health reports four new cases of COVID-19

First hospitalization since mid-August announced

Rail traffic starts moving after 60-car derailment near Hope

Clean up effort ongoing after 60 cars carrying potash crashed along a rail bridge

Spoon-wielding man draws police presence in Penticton

Police say no one was harmed during the incident

B.C.’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan: Top 5 things you need to know

Jobs training, tax incentives for employers to hire staff and more

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to B.C. Legislature

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

Most Read