BY RAVI KAHLON
Parliamentary Secretary for Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development
WHEN I was two years old, my sister and I were sent to India to live with family because my dad lost his job at the local mill and my parents couldn’t afford daycare. It was a difficult time for my family because we, as children, were separated from our parents for four years.
This very personal experience has given me a genuine understanding of the stress families are facing throughout the Interior. And frankly, it infuriates me that the previous government asked industry experts to write a detailed report on the scope of the problems facing the Interior forest industry in 2015 and then stuck it on a shelf and took no action to prepare for the inevitable impacts.
Indeed, if government of the day had ensured that the forest industry invested in new products and technologies that would have eased the transition to a lower fibre supply when lumber prices were at an all-time high, things would have been much easier. But they didn’t and now we are forced to address these challenges as prices and timber supply declines.
We are working hard to ensure that workers and communities are not left to fend for themselves as this long-predicted rationalization occurs. We are all hands on deck across all involved ministries on this file.
It takes time to get the proper supports in place – and we are working hard to do that.
Our key priority is supporting workers and their families. Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson has reached out to a broad variety of stakeholders about what actions can best support those affected by mill closures and curtailments. He has had discussions with Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell, Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson, as well as the mayors of Mackenzie, 100 Mile House and Fort St. James. He has also talked to representatives from the United Steelworkers union, Unifor, and Public and Private Workers of Canada.
We are now leading community transition responses for resource-based communities experiencing significant job loss impacts through supports and services, including: job fairs; skills training and career counselling; support for families; as well as economic diversification strategies, with the end goal for people being able to stay in their community.
We know more needs to be done and more will be done.
A new vision of forestry needs to emerge and to this end, we are consulting workers, communities, contractors and companies on the path forward in an effort to change the channel on forestry in B.C.
We’re changing what happens in the woods with new legislation that ensures that the public interest is taken into account in the transfer of Crown tenures between forest companies – giving more decision-making power to all British Columbians.
As fibre supply declines in the wake of a mountain pine beetle epidemic that killed significant portions of the pine in our Interior forests, we need to diversify and get more value from the trees that are harvested, so that they benefit the communities and families that depend on the forest sector.
Federal government support will also be needed and, make no mistake, we will be pressing the federal government to step up to the plate with funding for impacted workers and communities in British Columbia. Again, this all should have been started years ago, but our government is taking action now to clean up the mess left behind by the previous government.
I’ve asked the federal government for a briefing on the progress of the softwood file. While I know that these disputes have historically taken on a life of their own, we must secure access to this important market.
Following up on the foundation that Minister Donaldson has already laid, and to support the very hard work he has already done behind the scenes, I will be hitting the road to talk to families and communities affected by this in the coming weeks.
I’m focused. I’m determined. I will be seeking solutions so that workers can continue supporting their families, so they don’t have to feel the pain of unemployment the way that my family did.