B.C. loggers brace for changes in century-old log export policy

Contractor regulations shifting to stabilize struggling industry

Logging equipment waits for auction on Vancouver Island, 2009. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Logging contractors are hopeful that the latest B.C. government changes to forest policy will stabilize a traditional business so companies can be sold as a going concern, rather than winding up in an auction of costly trucks and harvesting machines.

At the recent Truck Loggers Association convention, Premier John Horgan got a standing ovation when he announced changes to improve relations between B.C. forest licence holders and logging contractors. But the loggers were quiet about the NDP government’s proposed changes to reduce log exports, which the TLA has maintained for years is the revenue source that keeps some of them working in marginal-value stands.

“We are nervous about them to say the least, because we don’t know how it’s going to work,” David Elstone, executive director of the TLA, told Black Press in an interview.

“What we’re trying to get is a level of sustainability, so when people exit the business, they’re actually selling the business instead of going into dispersion of their equipment,” Elstone said. “Then there are people who want to come in and reinvest, attracting new contractors to the business.”

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Horgan appointed former NDP premier Dan Miller to tackle “contractor sustainability,” the current term for survival in a forest industry facing sawmill shutdowns, a lack of skilled workers and a struggle to reach timber that can be cut and delivered economically.

Changes to export policy are “going to lead to more logs staying in British Columbia and more opportunity to extend mills rather than see the closures and the curtailments,” Horgan said at the B.C. Natural Resource Forum in Prince George this week. “We want to make sure first and foremost that the surrogate bidding that’s been blocking small operators from accessing B.C. logs is stopped, so we don’t have people bidding on behalf of other people and we have a fair and free and open log market.”

Elstone said domestic manufacturers are frustrated because despite a willingness to pay full market price for logs, some licensees are not willing to share the timber supply, keeping logs for their export program.

“The big issue isn’t log exports, it’s control of the timber supply, and having the timber supply in too few hands,” Elstone said. “The same thing happens in the log exporting business. People who should have a fair rate to buy logs are not given the chance, and it frustrates them, whereas others are able to export.”

The TLA is encouraged by a move to industry experts to arbitrate disputes.

“In the arbitration process, the contractor lawyers up and the licensees lawyer up and the lawyers go in front of an arbitrator who typically would have been a lawyer or operated in the legal world,” Elstone said. “If we have forestry experts on a panel as opposed to lawyers, that will expedite things.”

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson acknowledged there is more work ahead as his ministry develops new regulations. He noted that Miller found the most financially stable top 25 per cent of contractors and forest licensees already share information and negotiated rate models.

“By implementing Mr. Miller’s recommendations, logging contractors and their families in communities ranging from Port Alberni and Nanaimo, to Kamloops, Williams Lake and Nakusp, will be better able to count on a stable income to pay their mortgages, put food on the table and repair or replace aging or worn equipment,” Donaldson said.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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