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

Police probe reports that fire alarm didn’t sound during fatal Prince George motel blaze

A suspect was also arrested, but later released pending further investigation

Finding freedom in expression through painting

Vanderhoof painter talks about her love for painting and the difficult questions artists are faced with.

District and Airport development society in disagreement over new apron

User group says there are safety hazards, and the district of Vanderhoof says otherwise.

Vanderhoof will have its own cannabis store Tuesday

This is the 18th government-run store to open in the province.

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

Keep circles small, wear masks and be aware of symptoms, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. NDP changing WorkSafeBC regulations to respond to COVID-19

Employers say reclassifying coronavirus could be ‘ruinous’

Baby raccoon rescued from 10-foot deep drainage pipe on Vancouver Island

‘Its cries were loud, pitiful and heartbreaking,’ Saanich animal control officer says

Statistical flaws led to B.C. wolf cull which didn’t save endangered caribou as estimated

Study finds statistical flaws in an influential 2019 report supporting a wolf cull

Windows broken, racist graffiti left on Okanagan home

Family says nothing like this has happened since they moved to Summerland in 1980s

B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’ charged with sex assault of teenage boys

The man, 75, is accused of assaulting teenage boys he met through Coquitlam-area churches

B.C.’s potential deficit $12.5 billion as spending spikes, taxes drop

Finance Minister Carole James gives COVID-19 outlook

Canadians torn on scaling back COVID-19 benefits to save money: poll

Of those surveyed, 78 per cent said they were worried about the size of the deficit

‘Trauma equals addiction’: Why some seek solace in illicit drugs

Part 2: Many pushed into addiction by ‘toxic stress,’ says White Rock psychologist

Most Read