Log­ging-truck protest con­voy driven by plea for help

The Prince George Citizen - - Local | Weather - Der­rick PEN­NER

When log-haul con­trac­tor Levi Brown­scombe left his home in Hixon, 60 kilo­me­tres south of Prince Ge­orge, at 2:30 a.m. on Wed­nes­day, there were al­ready log­ging trucks on the road driv­ing south to join the protest con­voy headed to Down­town Van­cou­ver.

More trucks joined at Ques­nel, Wil­liams Lake and other towns along High­way 97 to a rally point in Merritt, with sup­port­ers show­ing up at the side of the road hold­ing ‘We Love Log­gers’ signs to cheer them on.

“We’re talk­ing four in the morn­ing, and they got up to wave us on, and it hasn’t stopped,” Brown­scombe said, “We feel sup­ported.”

Brown­scombe, 24, is an in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tor with two trucks and is a five-year vet­eran of the in­dus­try. He hasn’t lost work yet, but knows many other driv­ers who have run out of con­tract­ing jobs dur­ing what has be­come a long sum­mer of pro­duc­tion cur­tail­ments and clo­sures at more than 20 In­te­rior sawmills. He is ner­vous enough about the fu­ture to take part in the ef­fort.

Some 3,000 mill work­ers have lost work in di­rect em­ploy­ment this sum­mer, 500 per­ma­nently and an­other 750 in­def­i­nitely, ac­cord­ing to the prov­ince’s last count. In­di­rect job losses among con­trac­tors and log­ging-truck driv­ers haven’t been tal­lied.

Log­ging-truck driv­ers are hard­work­ing peo­ple, Brown­scombe said, and “it speaks vol­umes” when up­wards of 200 of them have the time to take part in the con­voy. The protest aimed to make the point that small-town B.C. is hurt­ing, and needs help.

“We don’t want to see small­town B.C. die,” Brown­scombe said, and he wanted to join the ef­fort be­cause “small-town B.C. needs forestry.”

The num­ber of trucks turned into some­thing around 300 in a con­voy that stretched 17 km, said or­ga­nizer Howard McK­in­non, a Merritt-based truck­ing con­trac­tor.

McK­in­non, along with coor­ga­nizer Frank Etchart, started plan­ning the protest six days ago and the idea spread rapidly on so­cial me­dia.

“Last Fri­day, Frank Etchart and I, over cof­fee, were won­der­ing when we were go­ing to go back to work,” said McK­in­non, a sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion truck­ing op­er­a­tor with 40 years in the busi­ness. “And we thought we’ve got to do some­thing – do some­thing to sup­port the towns like Vavenby and 100 Mile House that have lost their mills in a per­ma­nent ca­pac­ity.”

Hav­ing taken part in a 1994 con­voy of trucks to Vic­to­ria in a pre­vi­ous down­turn, McK­in­non said “let’s do a rally.”

From the ral­ly­ing point in Merritt, the con­voy cul­mi­nated in a bois­ter­ous pro­ces­sion of log­ging trucks rum­bling in a cir­cuit past the Van­cou­ver Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, honk­ing their horns in a stac­cato ca­coph­ony as they passed by.

“We’re not here for a hand­out,” McK­in­non said. “I want to make that per­fectly clear, we’re here to se­cure jobs in the for­est in­dus­try.”

Log­gers are look­ing for changes to B.C.’s stumpage sys­tem that he be­lieves the prov­ince can make. Stumpage is the fee paid by forestry com­pa­nies for the rights to cut tim­ber on Crown land. Stumpage rates are cal­cu­lated quar­terly, us­ing a for­mula that re­flects mar­ket prices for lum­ber, which is im­por­tant be­cause of the Canada-U.S. soft­wood lum­ber dis­pute.

For­est Min­is­ter Doug Don­ald­son, in an­nounc­ing a $69-mil­lion aid pack­age for the be­lea­guered in­dus­try last week, said he wasn’t pre­pared to al­ter stumpage be­cause of the risk to Canada’s po­si­tion that prov­inces don’t sub­si­dize the in­dus­try. McK­in­non, how­ever, ar­gued that if stumpage rates were cal­cu­lated more fre­quently, it might more ac­cu­rately re­flect the type and amount of wood be­ing cut, po­ten­tially re­duc­ing costs for lum­ber com­pa­nies.

Don­ald­son met with the con­voy late Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

“I know that (mill clo­sures) is a ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion for these small­busi­ness peo­ple to be fac­ing, and our gov­ern­ment is work­ing with them to ad­dress their short-term needs,” he said. “We talked about the $69-mil­lion as­sis­tance pack­age… and com­mit­ted to meet with the con­trac­tors again next week to dis­cuss other ways to as­sist their sec­tor.”

McK­in­non said he knows of B.C. log­gers who have gone to Al­berta to work, be­cause mills there “are op­er­at­ing flat out.”

B.C.’s In­te­rior mills are also run­ning into tim­ber short­ages in the af­ter­math of the moun­tain pine bee­tle in­fes­ta­tion and record years for for­est fires in 2017 and 2018.

McK­in­non said the in­dus­try has known that tim­ber short­ages were com­ing, but more mills could still be op­er­at­ing now if the prov­ince could step in to help re­duce the costs of their tim­ber sup­plies.

“We don’t have the lux­ury of time any­more,” McK­in­non said.

“We have run out of money and we refuse to just sit by silent and watch it all come crash­ing down.”

Brown­scombe fol­lowed his fa­ther into the in­dus­try and wants to main­tain his hope for a long-term fu­ture. In the short term, how­ever,

“I’m as un­sure and un­easy as any­one,” Brown­scombe said.

The sawmill near Hixon that he con­tracts to is still run­ning, but Brown­scombe wor­ries whether it might have to take down­time in 2020.

Brown­scombe trav­elled to the Van­cou­ver rally with his girl­friend, Paige John­ston, a fourth-year for­est ecol­ogy stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of North­ern B.C. John­ston crammed in ex­tra work to fin­ish as­sign­ments early so she could miss a few days of class be­cause she felt it was im­por­tant enough for her to take part.

“It’s a lit­tle bit nerve-rack­ing,” John­ston said about be­ing in a class that grad­u­ates next spring fac­ing an in­dus­try in tur­moil.

Start­ing last May, com­pa­nies have listed five sawmills – four in the In­te­rior – for per­ma­nent clo­sure, cut the num­ber of shifts at three mills and in­def­i­nitely cur­tailed four more.

John­ston said the sum­mer jobs for some of her class­mates ended early be­cause of clo­sures, “and we haven’t got­ten into the work­force yet.”

She added that “a lot of peo­ple close to me” drive log­ging trucks or are in­volved in log­ging con­tract­ing, in­clud­ing her fa­ther and brother.

“I want to sup­port peo­ple like me look­ing for a fu­ture, hop­ping for a bet­ter one,” John­ston said.

CP PHOTO

Log­ging truck driv­ers stand out­side their trucks af­ter a con­voy of log­ging trucks ar­rived in down­town Van­cou­ver on Wed­nes­day. A con­voy of ap­prox­i­mately 200 log­ging trucks drove to Van­cou­ver from Merritt as own­ers and driv­ers hoped to high­light the ef­fects from dozens of mill clo­sures and thou­sands of lay­offs in Bri­tish Columbia’s for­est in­dus­try.

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