August 1, 2019 7:42 pm
Updated: August 1, 2019 8:50 pm

‘It’s a perfect storm’: Kelowna meeting addresses downturn crisis plaguing B.C.’s forestry sector

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One hundred and 40 workers at Tolko’s Kelowna, B.C., mill are the latest to receive layoff notices for six weeks.

The company is blaming the high cost of logs and weak market conditions.

Industry representatives gathered in Kelowna on Thursday to brainstorm solutions to the crisis plaguing B.C.’s forest sector.

READ MORE: Tolko to take downtime at its Kelowna location

“Our membership alone has close to 1,000 layoffs right now and there is no future right now. They’re worried,” said Todd Chamberlain, general manager of the Interior Logging Association.

The downturn is being described as the worst in four decades.

“Many of our members who have been in this industry for generations haven’t seen [anything] like this before,” said Dan Battistella, president of the Interior Lumber Manufacturers’ Association.

WATCH: (June 2019) B.C. sawmills laying off employees


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Industry representatives said the job losses and shift curtailments are the result of high timber prices and slashed demand.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Chamberlain.

The slowdown is also impacting spinoff industries.

“We’re not working, so we have millions of dollars’ worth of equipment that needs to be serviced on a monthly basis,” said contractor Dan Eaton.

“And with the uncertainty, we have bankers knocking on our doors asking if everything is alright.”

Opposition Liberal MLAs in the Okanagan, who were also at the roundtable meeting, are calling for relief for logging companies.

READ MORE: Tolko’s Okanagan cuts a sign of bigger problems for B.C.’s forestry sector

John Rustad, BC Liberal forestry critic, suggested reduced stumpage fees that businesses must pay to harvest timber on Crown land.

“That would be a big piece at driving down some of the costs,” he said.

The Liberals also suggest reducing taxes and red tape to make the industry more competitive.

WATCH: (May 2019) Federal finance minister says steel tariff deal gives him hope for future of softwood lumber

“There needs to be some structural changes in order for us to be able to compete — whether it’s Europe, other Canadian provinces or the Americans — if we want to see some health come back to our forest industry,” Rustad said.

In the short term, the NDP government said it’s working on economic development plans with impacted communities and re-training workers.

READ MORE: Tolko Industries announces downtime for two of its B.C. lumber mills

“In the medium and long term, we’ve launched the interior renewal process for forestry, something that we’re content on undertaking, asking for public engagement around policy adjustments that could be made,” said Doug Donaldson, B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources.

For those at the roundtable meeting, relief can’t come soon enough.

“It’s all hands on deck and they’re holding on trying to survive this,” Battistella said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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