B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks with unemployed forest industry contractors attending rally at B.C. legislature, Dec. 11, 2019. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Laid-off forest workers converge on B.C. legislature

Loggers call for action on strike, provincial stumpage

More than 200 Vancouver Island forest contractors and suppliers gathered at the B.C. legislature Wednesday to call for relief for an industry that has left them out of work for months.

Many have been idled by the United Steelworkers strike against Western Forest Products that has dragged on since July 1. Some contractors say the NDP government’s increased penalties for wood waste have made it too costly to operate, and provincial stumpage for Crown timber remains too high.

Bill Coates, a contractor from Port Alberni who organized the rally, emerged from a meeting with Forests Minister Doug Donaldson after people had waited outside for more than an hour.

“We came to Victoria to have our voices heard on very short notice, and we were heard,” Coates told the crowd, who cheered and applauded speakers who told of family struggles as Christmas approaches. “What we’ve seen is our industry down and our personal taxes up, and we need to get back to work.”

Mediator Vince Ready is scheduled to meet with the union and Western Forest Products management Thursday to deal with outstanding issues including shift schedule changes, long-term disability payments and drug and alcohol testing.

RELATED: Steelworkers, Western to return to mediated talks

RELATED: Interior forest aid on the way, Donaldson says

Geoff Brown, also a contractor, said stumpage rates and harvesting restrictions have affected equipment suppliers, foresters and engineers as well as loggers.

“They’re basically charging triple what the waste penalties were,” Brown said. “Costs have gone through the roof. We can’t operate.”

The rally took place as Premier John Horgan and the NDP cabinet were wrapping up their weekly meeting. Speakers called for Horgan or any government representative to come out and speak with them, but they were disappointed.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and forests critic John Rustad addressed the rally, calling for more government action. Rustad said the government’s refusal to change stumpage rate setting from the current quarterly system to monthly, to reflect lumber prices, ignores the fact that Alberta sets stumpage monthly without sparking protests from U.S. lumber producers.

In November, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett asked Donaldson about a letter to Finance Minister Carole James from Sigurdson Forest Products of Williams Lake, calling for a delay in stumpage payments. The company had just laid off 50 people, with 90 left working in its sawmill and planer, as it struggles with loss of timber from fire that caused it to miss the period of high lumber prices that preceded the current downturn.

“We currently owe approximately $4.6 million in outstanding stumpage,” president Brian Sigurdson wrote.


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