British Columbia’s raw log export policy is forcing small mills out of business, says Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser. One of those mills, Coleman Road Shingle, is right here in Port Alberni.
Butch Taylor has operated Coleman Road Shingle for 32 years. In 2000 he had enough work that he had to build a new mill, and increased his staff to 32 full-time workers from 12. Fast-forward a dozen years, one recession and multiple layoffs later, and Taylor is back to where he started.
Taylor said the whole reason his business is suffering is due to a lack of wood fibre.
“Right now we could put in a second shift if we had wood and we had people. But all our young people went to Alberta,” he said.
Coleman Road Shingle has produced cedar shakes and shingles for the roofing industry for more than three decades. Taylor started when cedar shingles were the only option; now, there are many options for roofing material, from asphalt shingles to metal roofs. Coleman Road Shingle has been able to compete with all of them.
But Taylor said he cannot compete with government policy. He was faced with having to close his mill until recently, when Western Forest Products was able to provide him with some wood. “Western came through with some wood for us so we’re back up running now,” he said.
“They’re bending over backward to help us.”
When the recession hit in 2008 and the housing market slowed, Taylor said his employees stepped up to the plate. His saw filer also does the books, and other employees are multi-tasking. Taylor himself, whose health issues have forced him to stop with the physical work, helps out as much as he can but doesn’t draw wages from the business.
The shingle mill has fought through market upswings and downswings before, but “this year it’s really hard and really scary,” Taylor said. “I’ve got people that have been here for 25 years. How do I go out and tell a guy that’s been here for 25 years that it’s the last day?
“It makes me sick to my stomach.”
Fraser defends business owners like Taylor and others who are affected by raw log exports. British Columbia exported 5.5 million cubic metres of wood last year alone, Fraser said.
“Liberals’ raw log export policy is killing his business,” Fraser said of Taylor.
“How can the minister (of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations) justify the raw log policy when it’s putting people out of business?”
Fraser was due to confront the Liberals over raw log exports during question period in the B.C. legislature this afternoon.
Fraser is also critical of the Liberal government for its lack of action over Catalyst Paper entering creditor protection. “They haven’t even sent in a fact finder,” Fraser said. The province is not seeing the big picture when it comes to the threat of Catalyst Paper closing in B.C., he added.
Pensions are threatened for thousands of retired mill workers. And if the mill closes, it will also affect small mill owners like Taylor, who send their waste wood to Catalyst to be used as hog fuel. If the mill doesn’t need the hog fuel, mills won’t have anywhere to get rid of waste because they can’t dump it, Fraser said.
If Catalyst goes down “the entire ripple effect will be devastating,” he said.