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Economy

‘Very sad news’: Kelowna mill closure puts 127 employees out of work

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.”

READ MORE: Tolko Industries announces lumber mill in Kelowna will be closed indefinitely

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.”

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WATCH BELOW (Aired May 28, 2019): Tolko cuts shift in Kelowna as forestry sector struggles

Tolko cuts shift in Kelowna as forestry sector struggles
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.

READ MORE: Big rally in Mackenzie, B.C., draws attention to continuing lumber crisis

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.

WATCH BELOW (Aired Sept. 23, 2016): Merritt mayor on Tolko shutting down lumber mill in December

Merritt mayor on Tolko shutting down lumber mill in December
Merritt mayor on Tolko shutting down lumber mill in December

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.”

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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

Okanagan lumber industry hurting like the rest of province
Okanagan lumber industry hurting like the rest of province

McGregor vowed his union will pressure government to act.

“We are going to be talking to the provincial government to try and get work for some relief on log costs,” he said. “Whatever we can do to maybe get [the Kelowna mill] fired up again.”

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.