Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo candidates tackled the issues surrounding the Interior’s forest industry at an All Candidates Forum in Clearwater last week.
Though forestry is a provincial issue, candidates were asked if the federal government has a role to play in mitigating the impacts facing the hard-hit industry, with all those present agreeing both levels of government need to be at the table to address the situation.
Iain Currie of the Green Party was the first to speak on the topic, noting the Greens are proposing a national forest strategy and said the way resources are viewed needs to change.
“I believe we need to move away from treating our forests simply as board feet of lumber and we need to consider the economic value, the value of our forests to communities including this one,” Currie said.
“What we’re proposing is a national forest strategy to bring together different levels of government — federal, provincial, local and First Nations — in order to advance assisting ability and regenerate our forests and to support communities in keeping the forests an asset to the community as opposed to just looking at the dollars and cents first.”
Conservative candidate, Cathy McLeod, noted the lack of response from the Liberal government on the issue and gave some suggestions on how to address the troubles in the industry.
“Justin Trudeau, when the election was called, didn’t mention the forestry crisis and to be frank, not only was I angry, but I was so disappointed because I had people at that time calling my office, even today we had someone who said they’re three months away from being bankrupt, they have three small children, they were devastated and crying and it was awful,” said McLeod.
“We need a softwood lumber agreement … we need to be supporting workers and make sure the EI program is appropriate for them. If you remember in 2007 we had strategies around that. Finally, we need to support the communities. WD (Western Economic Diversification Canada), in the summer they were sprinkling money in Vancouver and Victoria and not a penny came to our forestry dependent communities.”
Terry Lake of the Liberal Party mentioned a number of things that contributed to the situation facing the forest industry, including the pine beetle, extreme wildfire seasons and stumpage fees.
“We had (Annual Allowable Cut) that was increased to get rid of that wood while we could get some value out of it, so mills geared up and now that wood is gone. We’ve had forest fires that have taken more wood than what’s harvested. So all of these things that have come together along with a stumpage fee that is five times Alberta’s,” said Lake.
“A lot of that is under provincial policy so what can the federal government do? Cathy mentioned the softwood lumber agreement, but it’s going to be hard with Trump to do anything about that.”
Some of Lake’s recommendations included making sure forestry dependent communities are first in line for infrastructure projects that will employ local workers, an initiative to plant 2 billion trees over 10 years to help increase forest health and fuel management projects to employ forestry workers.
Ken Finlayson of the People’s Party of Canada agreed the issue is unprecedented and said long term solutions aren’t good enough, adding something needs to be done sooner to address the situation.
“We don’t need some longterm planning, we need something right now because people are losing their jobs, homes, and trucks — some of those logging trucks that haven’t turned a wheel since April,” said Finlayson.
“This is the principal industry that’s driven the economy of B.C. for over 100 years. Two-thirds of the people in the industry are either laid off or facing layoffs.”
Finlayson added better trade negotiations with the United States would help and criticized attempts by the Liberal government during the last North American Free Trade Agreement talks.
“We need some adults to do the negotiating because we got a 22 per cent duty down here that would help mitigate the disaster that keeps us out of the American market.”