Local politicians gave B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson their loudest applause for his call to do more for the province’s struggling forest industry.
Speaking to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention Thursday, Wilkinson described the plight of logging truck drivers who drove from all over the B.C. Interior to circle the Vancouver convention centre demanding action from the provincial government. Their horn-blasting protest lasted for hours Wednesday, resulting in a brief meeting with Forests Minister Doug Donaldson.
Thanks Interior logging contractors for raising awareness on forest economy with truck convoy to downtown Vancouver. Working together building on our $69 million support program to address additional urgent measures and longer-term solutions that needed work years ago #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/vv2ShAhs4P
— Doug Donaldson (@DonaldsonDoug) September 26, 2019
“Those people in those trucks are almost all contractors who owe something between $100,000 and $1 million to the bank, and they have no work,” Wilkinson said. “And many of them have told us they’ve had no work since May.”
— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) September 26, 2019
Communities that have lost sawmill employment, such as Vavenby and Vanderhoof, have effectively been told “you’re expendable,” Wilkinson said, adding that Donaldson recently said in a radio interview that people who are losing their jobs at Hammond Cedar in Maple Ridge can get a job on the Pattullo Bridge replacement project.
Wilkinson said B.C.’s stumpage charges on Crown land logs are up to 10 times higher than in Alberta, contributing to the highest log costs in North America, and the forest industry is shifting there as a result. Protesting truckers also called for reduced stumpage, which Donaldson has warned is a provocation to the U.S. industry that has already imposed import duties of around 20 per cent on B.C. lumber.
Asked about that risk, Wilkinson told Black Press that government is about “best practices,” and Alberta has out-competed B.C. with similar conditions.
“They’re dealing with the same government in the U.S.A.,” he said.
Wilkinson said the pain of rural communities was increased by $25 million that was “stolen” from the province’s Rural Dividend fund to include in a $69 million retraining and retirement package for four Interior communities that have mills closing.
That money and much more has been diverted into the NDP government’s union-only public construction program, which has raised the cost of a short stretch of highway widening near Revelstoke by millions, Wilkinson said.