Old-timers remember the last time an NDP government tried to impose its vision of state control on the B.C. forest industry. The 1990s-era Forest Practices Code filled a shelf full of binders, prescribing everything down to inspecting for litter when logging is complete.
As the latest version is pushed through the B.C. legislature this month, that’s beginning to look like the good old days. Sawmills are announcing further temporary shutdowns, and forest companies are preparing for more job losses.
Last year the John Horgan government announced the creation of the Office of Professional Reliance and Oversight, a new bureaucracy to supervise professional foresters, engineers and biologists who develop resource projects of all kinds. This was essentially to appease Green MLA Sonia Furstenau, who is convinced despite a stack of expert assessments that the Mount Polley mine collapse could have been prevented if geotechnical engineers had been watched more closely by government inspectors.
Next came the NDP government’s deal with Ottawa to put vast wilderness areas off limits to industry and recreation, to protect dwindling caribou herds. This was developed in secret and finally put on hold by Horgan after people packed meeting halls around the province demanding answers. Horgan appointed Dawson Creek councillor and former B.C. Liberal energy minister Blair Lekstrom and gave him this month to do the consultation that should have been done first.
The latest NDP bill requires ministry permission for companies to swap Crown forest licences, weakening their value as a business asset. B.C. Liberal MLA John Rustad, who followed his father into the forest industry before politics, described the effects of this and other changes to forest policy in the legislature.
Conifex is taking more downtime at its Fort St. James and Mackenzie sawmills. Canfor reported a first-quarter loss, the CEO citing uncompetitive costs in B.C., while its Alberta, southern U.S. and European operations generated “solid financial returns.”
Quesnel-based West Fraser reported its latest results, noting “the myriad of policy changes the B.C. government is planning to implement” is changing its investment plans. West Fraser invested $600 million in B.C. to modernize operations and process pine beetle-killed timber. Like other big producers it has to compete in a global market with Russia, Sweden, the U.S., Brazil and so on.
On the coast, Western Forest Products gave its first quarter results and indicated more mill curtailments are coming, due to high costs and log shortages. Rustad told me that since Horgan announced his coastal “revitalization” plan, among those costs is a 118-per-cent increase in stumpage fees to the province. Monthly cutting permits on the coast are down by a third since this plan began to unfold.
The caribou protection plan is poised to place vast areas of the Kootenay and Peace regions off limits to resource development. As the B.C. Council of Forest Industries has pointed out, caribou have disappeared from Banff National Park, which has been protected since 1885. Herds are also declining in Jasper, Wells Gray and Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in northern B.C., which have seen little or no logging or roadbuilding.
The industry’s “worst case” analysis for the B.C. Interior is a 40-per-cent drop in timber cut, in what may be a futile effort to save caribou herds that are ravaged by predators, notably wolves.
For the Revelstoke region, the timber harvest reduction would be 100 per cent, meaning the industry that employs one out of 10 of Kootenay workers would be no more.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org