An energetic rally by workers in the north-central British Columbia town of Mackenzie has highlighted the desperate situation facing many forestry-dependent communities across the province.
Three wood products operations in Mackenzie closed indefinitely or cut hours this summer, blaming high log costs and adverse market conditions.
Mayor Joan Atkinson says about 400 workers have been directly affected by the closure of the Canfor mill and slowdowns at two other operations, including the Conifex sawmill which is not due to reopen until Sept. 2.
WATCH: (June 11) B.C. sawmills laying off employees
Atkinson says at least another 400 indirect jobs are on the line in the community of 3,500, where there’s also concern for the future of the Paper Excellence pulp mill because it relies on sawdust from the lumber operations.
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson joined as many as 1,000 people at the Thursday rally.
He said the B.C. government is working closely with Conifex to ensure its Mackenzie sawmill restarts next month with enough fibre to support it and the pulp mill through the winter.
About two dozen mills across B.C.’s interior have declared closures or production cuts this year because of volatile lumber markets.
With more than 20 per cent of Mackenzie’s workforce directly or indirectly affected, Atkinson says the large turnout at the rally doesn’t surprise her.
“This is a perfect example of the community coming to let the province, industry, corporate shareholders, everyone, know that our community matters,” she said.
Donaldson said he made further requests for federal support for hard-hit communities as recently as last week when he attended the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers meeting.