The Tolko lumber mill in Kelowna has been a fixture in the city’s north end for decades, but now the operation is shutting down indefinitely.
It is the latest mill in B.C. to curtail or shut down operations.
“Very sad news for our members in Kelowna,” said Pat McGregor, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1-423. “Another 127 people being laid off in addition to the 90 that were given notice back in July.”
Making it more difficult is the fact the 127 workers were getting ready to go back to work on Monday following a six-week curtailment at the mill.
“To our local, it’s huge. To the city of Kelowna, it’s huge and to the industry in general,” McGregor told Global News. “It’s another warning sign that things need to change.”
WATCH BELOW (Aired May 28, 2019): Tolko cuts shift in Kelowna as forestry sector struggles
The shutdown is another blow to B.C.’s lumber industry — with high log costs and poor North American market conditions being blamed.
Tolko Industries made the closure announcement in a news release on Thursday afternoon.
The company declined an interview on Friday.
B.C. forestry critic Liberal MLA John Rustad called the situation a crisis right across the province.
Rustad urgently called on the NDP government to take action.
“Government needs to step in and understand that it has to drive down our costs and make us more competitive so that people can be working,” he said.
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Some of the changes he suggested to help struggling forestry companies like Tolko involve carbon taxes and stumpage fees.
“Other provinces are not taking downtime and British Columbia is,” Rustad said. “That is a direct result of us being uncompetitive.”
McGregor agreed, saying there are steps government can take that would make a difference.
“Oh, absolutely there are solutions out there,” he said.
WATCH BELOW (Aired June 21, 2019): Okanagan lumber industry hurting like the rest of province
McGregor vowed his union will pressure government to act.
McGregor said fears are growing the mill may never resume operations again.
“We’re very worried and that is the sentiment from the majority of the workers there,” McGregor said. “They are already of the opinion it’s probably not going to start back up.”
Global News is waiting for comment from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources.