Editorial: More worries over work in B.C.’s woods

Shutterstock

For the value it adds to B.C.’s economy and the share it shoulders of the province’s vital export inventory, forestry gets precious little love from the provincial government.

Last week’s announced $69 million initiative to support workers in the beleaguered forest industry is therefore encouraging.

It is also long overdue.

The BC NDP’s script accompanying the release of the province’s first--quarter 2019 financial report was “putting people first.” Finance Minister Carole James also applauded her government’s job of “strong budget management that is delivering services people count on, making life more affordable for people and building a sustainable economy.”

These are laudable talking points.

But it might be time to consider doing more to put key economic building blocks first.

Forestry, for instance. Though it gets little recognition from urban sophisticates and the clean-tech set, forestry remains fundamental to B.C.’s economic vitality. It still directly employs approximately 50,000 British Columbians and generates roughly one-third of B.C. export revenue.

But it is hurting.

As the first-quarter update noted, exports of forestry products and building materials were down 13%. However, the sector’s fundamentals are in far worse shape as the mill closures and shift reductions noted in last week’s provincial government forest worker support program announcement illustrate.

Resource companies have provided and continue to provide the backbone tax and royalty funds that bankroll the services James rightly notes British Columbians count on.

So if they are to continue to count on them, the finance minister’s government needs to look at how it can help more than displaced workers. It needs a plan to help companies in a resource industry that is reeling from a fibre supply depleted by pine beetle infestations and wildfires, a depressed export market and government policies that make it harder for forestry companies to remain economically viable. 

Putting forestry first for a change would also help put a lot of people first in this province.