A politician in B.C.’s Southern Interior says it’s time for political differences to be put aside for the betterment of the province’s ailing lumber industry.
Kelowna-West MLA Ben Stewart, a member of the BC Liberal party, says the lumber industry is facing many challenges, including a shortage of trees from the mountain pine beetle.
According to Natural Resources Canada, the mountain pine beetle has attacked 50 per cent of B.C.’s commercial lodgepole pine.
However, Stewart says some factors afflicting the industry are controllable, such as stumpage rates, “and frankly, we are doing nothing. We are oblivious to that, and that’s what bothers me.”
Stewart said the provincial NDP government “is basically putting these workers out of a job because they refuse to see any kind of opportunity that could be created through their own actions. And, frankly, I’m disappointed.
“I know the forest minister and I know the premier, and I know they’ll say that they care, but they’re not doing anything, and they’ve got to wake up and smell the coffee.”
On Friday, Tolko Industries announced that it was going to permanently shutter its mill in Kelowna. In September, the mill was closed indefinitely.
In an interview with Global News following Tolko’s announcement, Stewart said he sat on a committee that toured the province in 2012 and featured members of the BC NDP.
“We always came up with solutions,” said Stewart. “We agreed unanimously on what it was we needed to do. We gave our recommendations to the (forest) minister; some were acted on, not all of them.
“I think in hindsight, they should have acted on more of them. But this is a time to roll up our sleeves, forget about the political innuendo and let’s find solutions that are going to help forestry families and workers.
“What type of Christmas are these people going to have?”
In September, the provincial government announced $69 million “to fund a new series of measures aimed at supporting British Columbia forest workers impacted by mill closures and shift reductions in several B.C. Interior communities.”
The money will go towards a variety of measures, including an early retirement bridging program and a short-term forest employment program.
“The province is committed to supporting the people impacted by this change, but we need the forest industry and the federal government to step up and do their part as well,” Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson said a Sept. 17 press release.
“I’m hopeful that the Interior forest sector recognizes that the new industry that will arise from this transition will need skilled, experienced workers to produce new forest products that can compete in global markets.”
Global News has reached out to Donaldson regarding Stewart’s comments.