Good on truckers for going to Vancouver

It’s said not to look a gift horse in the mouth. Well, apparently the $69 million in relief for forestry workers announced on Sept. 17 required some looking. They took funding from the B.C. Rural Dividend fund, a $25 million provincial fund aimed at helping communities of 25,000 people or less to “strengthen and diversify their local economies.”

For those struggling to read between the lines, they took money meant to help rural areas and repackaged it to help rural areas.

One question that’s come up a couple of times is, “we had a very mild year for fires, why don’t we reallocate some of those funds?”

The answer here is that there are no funds left there. If you’re wondering how that can be, it’s pretty simple. As pointed out in an editorial at budget time, the wildfire-fighting budget was woefully short compared to spending in previous years. In both 2017 and 2018, the province spent over $600 million fighting wildfires. For the 2019 year, they set a budget of about $101 million. Somewhat unbelievably, setting the budget at $101 was actually a substantial increase. This meant that the province was more prepared than it may have been in the past but it also hasn’t ended up with any money left over. Though it could be argued that there was money left in the contingency funds.

Looking at all of that, it’s no shocker that logging truck drivers are going to Vancouver to protest and bring awareness.

However, disappointed as people may be with the provincial government, they’re doing a lot more than their federal part.

When asked why the federal government isn’t playing a part in response to the crisis, we were referred to expanded Labour Market Development Agreements and new Workforce Development Agreements for laid-off workers as well as that Budget 2019 announced a $251 million investment in the forest sector’s transformation as well as $100 million for the forest sector as part of the Strategic Innovation Fund.

This is a lot of money. However, once you factor in that these funds are spread out across many provinces it’s a lot less money. Furthermore, many of the relevant programs that actually distribute this funding, such as the Forest Innovation Program, the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation Program and the Expanding Market Opportunities Program have been running for years. It’s a little like padding yourself on the back for not cutting funding during a crisis. Perhaps more significantly, none of it appears to be a specific response to the active crisis that is developing in B.C. communities. Unlike the municipalities and the province, the federal government doesn’t appear to even be at the table. Now, if I’ve gotten things wrong here, I’d love to be proven wrong; I’m sure our local workers would too.

Good on the loggers and truckers for driving to Vancouver. My advice? They should see if the federal party leaders are having any campaign rallies in B.C. because they seem to need to hear it even more.

The full response from Natural Resources Canada:

The federal government is always concerned when employees are laid off and the first priority is to help them get back to work. Assistance is available to help people in the forest sector re-enter the workforce, through expanded Labour Market Development Agreements and new Workforce Development Agreements, which provide services such as increased access to skills training and employment supports.

Budget 2019 announced a $251million investment in the ongoing forest sector’s transformation through innovation and market development programs, such as:

o The Forest Innovation Program supports the development of higher value forest products, while increasing environmental benefits;

o The Investments in Forest Industry Transformation program supports the industrial commercialization and adoption of innovative technologies and processes;

o The Expanding Market Opportunities Program increases and diversifies market opportunities for Canada’s forest products industry, both offshore and in North America; and,

o The Indigenous Forestry Initiative helps with forest-based economic development for Indigenous communities across Canada.

In addition, the 2018 Fall Economic Statement dedicated $100 million for the forest sector as part of the Strategic Innovation Fund. Services and programs ranging from immediate income measures and work-sharing are available to assist any affected workers directly through Service Canada. Longer-term transition options such as employment counselling, skills assessments, job search assistance and skills training are available through provincial partners.

Natural Resources Canada is actively engaging industry and communities to identify any potential opportunities to transition the forest sector to value-added and bio-product economies.

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