About 200 logging trucks will make their way through downtown Vancouver Wednesday morning to protest dozens of mill closures or curtailments and hundreds of jobs lost across B.C.
Truckers will be sending their message to those attending the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention at the Vancouver Convention Centre this week.
“We’ll have people as far north as Burns Lake and beyond…Quesnel, 100 Mile, Prince George, out of North Thompson, out of he Kooteneys, Kelowna, Vernon, from all over,” co-organizer Howard McKimmon said.
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McKimmon, who lives in Merritt and works as a log hauler, said he wants a peaceful, safe and respectful rally, so he contacted the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department.
“Police escort will take us from Merritt to a bridge check on the Coquihalla Highway, then from there Hope RCMP will pick us up, and so on and so on until we are handed off to Vancouver police who will then lead us into the city,” he said.
“We’re going to go in a show of numbers into the city, but we’re not going to remain there. The bulk of the traffic will be marshalled off to a designated parking area.”
McKimmon says he understands the rally will disrupt traffic, but it will highlight an issue that is near and dear to small-town British Columbians who are losing jobs in the forestry industry.
Co-organizer Frank Etchart, who owns Nadina Logging Ltd., says many of his workers are sitting at home.
“We run about 27 employees and we haven’t done much these last five months,” he said. “We have a lot of younger employees, it’s been tough. We’re starting to operate a little now but it’s been tough on our licensees because we are operating at a loss. We have a feeling that the way things are going, we might not be here for very long. Forestry is in crisis right now, we are asking the government to act now and hash something out.”
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Experts have said high log costs and lack of timber availability are making B.C.’s forestry industry unprofitable, noting there are fewer costs attached to the forestry sector in neighbouring Alberta.
Retired forestry worker Jerry Canuel said one big issue is the stumpage rate in place throughout B.C.
“Those rates do not reflect true market values right now and they are rates that are really at a level that are so high that it will prohibit harvesting operations from starting up again, so our message is that program has to be looked at, something has to be done with that program,” he said.
B.C.’s Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson has argued that changing or lowering stumpage fees would create further trouble with duties being imposed by the United States, setting the industry up for trouble in the long run.
“We are looking at ways for stumpage to be more responsive to lumber prices, but a wholesale fiddling with the stumpage system, at this point, would be seen as really weakening our case in terms of potential subsidy accusations from the United States,” he said last month.
— With files from Sean Boynton