Closure of the Vavenby mill was so predictable

Who could have predicted the collapse of B.C. forestry industry 15 years ago? Bob Simpson, that’s who. Back then the NDP MLA for Cariboo North was derided by the BC Liberals in the B.C. legislature and dubbed “Chicken Little” when he raised concerns about the future of our timber supply.

image: Kamloops This Week

Now, the sky is falling. As the wildfire season approaches, it’s the ashes of what was once marketable timber.

The writing was on the wall when the pine beetle turned 50 per cent of B.C.’s commercial lodgepole pine a rusty red a decade ago. Lumber mills worked overtime to harvest the trees before they became worthless. What remains now lie on the forest floor, ready to burn.

The Vavenby sawmill, 150 kilometres north of Kamloops, was just the start of a string of closures. It’s closing for good in July, wiping out 180 direct jobs in a community of just 3,500 people.

Canfor is shutting down all sawmills, except one, for at least two weeks. Not just sawmills but also their oriented strandboard plant in Fort St. John is closing, affecting 190 workers. The lack of wood supply is forcing Canfor to close their pulp mill until August 5. West Fraser will permanently close its Chasm lumber mill and eliminate the third shift in their 100 Mile House mill.

The loss of forests is threatening B.C.’s woodland caribou. If B.C. doesn’t do something to protect them, the feds will.  Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has threatened to impose an emergency protection order if we fail to implement species-at-risk protection. B.C. is one of the few provinces in Canada without a species-at-risk law, and yet we have the greatest number of species in danger.

The politics of navigating the dwindling lumber supply versus jobs is tricky. While inaction by the BC Liberals while in power to address the pine beetle, climate change, and endangered caribou is obvious neglect, Todd Stone, BC Liberal MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson sees it differently:

“British Columbia’s forestry industry is in crisis as mills close and job losses mount due to John Horgan and the NDP’s increased taxes, red tape and growing uncertainty on B.C.’s land base (CFJC Today, June, 13, 2019).”

Bob Simpson is familiar with the politics of forestry. His prophecy of doom for the forestry industry did not go over well in the previous provincial election. It was a hard message to swallow. Before the election, Simpson was warned by his staff that his message of an unsustainable lumber industry would be a hard-sell in mill towns. He was too blunt. After deadly blast levelled the main sawmill in Burns Lake in 2012 he said “You can’t be a sawmilling town forever (Globe and Mail, June 6, 2012).”

Speaking the truth in politics is dangerous. Simpson lost his seat in the riding of Cariboo North in the previous provincial election. Now as mayor of Quesnel, Simpson is preparing for the “industry meltdown.”

Like the cod in the Atlantic, B.C. forests seemed eternal. Our forests have not only been marketed as a provincial brand, they are part of our identity –an image that now needs a makeover.

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