Min­is­ter seeks more fed­eral help for ail­ing for­est sec­tor

The Prince George Citizen - - Front Page - Mark NIELSEN Cit­i­zen staff [email protected]­i­t­i­zen.ca

B.C. Forests Min­is­ter Doug Don­ald­son is seek­ing more help from the fed­eral govern­ment for the prov­ince’s strug­gling forests sec­tor.

While at­tend­ing a meeting in Saskatchew­an this week of fed­eral, pro­vin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial forests min­is­ters, Don­ald­son de­liv­ered a let­ter to fed­eral Nat­u­ral Re­sources Min­is­ter Amar­jeet Sohi out­lin­ing a five-point plan for fur­ther col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the two lev­els of govern­ment.

The pro­pos­als in­clude:

• En­hanc­ing and ex­tend­ing the Soft­wood Lum­ber As­sis­tance Program to ad­dress the ur­gent needs of mill work­ers, in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors and affected com­mu­ni­ties.

• De­vel­op­ing a bridg­ing program to al­low older work­ers to take early re­tire­ments. It would ap­ply to both those put out of work by a mill clo­sure and those whose job could be filled by some­one from an­other mill.

• Es­tab­lish­ing a cen­trally-op­er­ated “worker tran­si­tion co­or­di­na­tion of­fice” to over­see sup­port ser­vices and co­or­di­nate place­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.

• Fine tun­ing Em­ploy­ment In­sur­ance el­i­gi­bil­ity for ru­ral, forestry-de­pen­dent work­ers.

• Ex­pand­ing and ex­tend­ing sup­port for con­vert­ing mills from pro­duc­ing con­ven­tional prod­ucts to en­gi­neered wood, pulp, bioen­ergy and com­pos­ite prod­ucts.

In an in­ter­view, Don­ald­son said the pro­pos­als amount to a mix­ture of im­me­di­ate and longer-term “tar­geted in­ter­ven­tions” reached af­ter “be­ing in com­mu­ni­ties, on the ground, talk­ing to union work­ers, talk­ing to con­trac­tors, talk­ing to com­mu­ni­ties and First Na­tions.”

Don­ald­son de­clined to say how much money he is seek­ing from Ottawa.

“I’m not go­ing to ne­go­ti­ate pub­licly at this point,” he said.

“Our deputy min­is­ters have those fig­ures in mind and will be dis­cussing that over the next few days.”

That the pro­pos­als have been raised just as the writ is to be dropped for the fed­eral election is a ben­e­fit, Don­ald­son said, in the sense that it raises the ur­gency to re­spond.

“From a po­lit­i­cal sense, it could be some­thing that the fed­eral govern­ment might be in­ter­ested in an­nounc­ing as a lead up to an election,” he said.

Heather Saper­gia and Tracy Calogheros, re­spec­tively the NDP and Lib­eral can­di­dates in Cari­boo-Prince Ge­orge, both ex­pect the ail­ing for­est sec­tor to be an is­sue in the com­ing fed­eral election. It would make sense for the fed­eral Lib­er­als to roll out some help be­fore the writ is dropped, Calogheros said.

Cari­boo-Prince Ge­orge Con­ser­va­tive MP Todd Do­herty did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment on Wed­nes­day.

Op­po­si­tion forests critic John Rus­tad said Don­ald­son could have taken the step much sooner.

“Has he been asleep all this spring and sum­mer? I mean, this has been go­ing on now for many months,” Rus­tad said.

The MLA for Nechako-Lakes dis­puted the gov­ern­ing New Democrats’ claim that the pre­vi­ous B.C. Lib­eral govern­ment had no plan for deal­ing with the loom­ing cri­sis. He said strate­gies had been drafted to di­ver­sify the economy through min­ing, liqui­fied nat­u­ral gas and petro­chem­i­cals while also work­ing with lo­cal government­s through the so­called bee­tle ac­tion coali­tions.

And he said the com­mu­nity en­gage­ment process was ready to go right af­ter the 2017 election.

“For what­ever rea­son, the NDP didn’t fol­low up with that,” he said. “They de­cided to just let it sit, I don’t know why.”

He noted the govern­ment ran a $1.5-billion sur­plus, yet has not put any ad­di­tional money into help­ing the for­est sec­tors.

The min­is­ters met in Elk Ridge, known as the “heart of Saskatchew­an’s boreal for­est.”

Don­ald­son said the “un­just and un­fair” tariffs on soft­wood lum­ber was among the top­ics dis­cussed and noted the on­aver­age 20-per-cent levy is de­liv­er­ing an even big­ger im­pact due to ris­ing log costs and de­clin­ing prices for di­men­sional lum­ber.

He said data is be­ing col­lected through the B.C. Tim­ber Sales program to sup­port Canada’s ap­peal of the tariffs. Us­ing the tack has been suc­cess­ful in the past, Don­ald­son said, “and that’s why to fid­dle with stumpage rates, which some are sug­gest­ing to do at this point, (would) def­i­nitely hurt our cause in these ap­peals and is some­thing that would be seen with great sus­pi­cion by the U.S. lob­by­ists and lawyers.”

But Rus­tad said B.C. could take a page from Al­berta’s play­book and cal­cu­late stumpage on a monthly rather than quar­terly ba­sis.

“It’s not a mat­ter of sub­si­diz­ing or drop­ping stumpage, it’s just a mat­ter of bring­ing stumpage in line with more re­al­is­tic, cur­rent-mar­ket con­di­tions,” he said.

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