Clark’s conundrum confuses loggers

Here’s a puzzler. Last week, Premier Christy Clark was promising coastal truck loggers she won’t kill jobs by banning raw log exports

Here’s a puzzler. Last week, Premier Christy Clark was promising coastal truck loggers she won’t kill jobs by banning raw log exports. Next week, Jobs Minister Pat Bell will be in Campbell River almost certainly discussing the possibility of building a new sawmill that would need many of those logs currently being shipped to Asia.

The premier set the stage for a raw-boned coastal resource policy dust up when she buttered up members of the coastal Truck Loggers Association in an effort to differentiate herself, the jobs protector, from NDP leader Adrian Dix, the jobs killer.

“Yes, we would all like to get more value out of B.C. wood. But we are not going to get there by supporting Adrian Dix’s latest position on log exports. We are not going to get there by banning them,” Clark told truck logger conventioneers. “Why does Adrian Dix seem so intent on throwing people out of work?”

Clark exaggerated just a tad. Dix certainly wants to curtail the shipment of unprocessed logs out of B.C. and the majority of British Columbians agree with him. But a total ban is not on the NDP’s agenda. Dix will impose new taxes on log exports to give sawmills an opportunity to get access to wood again.

On cue, Truck Loggers Association executive director David Lewis said any curtailment of exports will mean lost jobs. “In the past year log exports have been a huge benefit to the province. The majority of our coastal timber is uneconomic to harvest if we are selling it to domestic buyers.”

In 2010, log exports increased by more than 50 per cent with more sticks shipped to China than in the previous 20 years combined. In the first three months of 2011 coastal operators exported 40 per cent of logs harvested.

The battle goes back and forth. Arnold Bercov, president of Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, Local 8, says an additional 2,400 jobs could have been created on Vancouver Island if the logs sent overseas were processed here.

Private Forest Landowners’ Association executive director Rod Bealing says raw log exports make sense because the domestic market for logs has virtually collapsed and B.C.’s mills are uncompetitive.

While the premier is pledging that log exports will continue, her jobs minister, a former Prince George timber executive, does not appear to be buying into the industry premise that coast sawmills can’t compete.

This coming Monday, Bell will be in Campbell River to convene a B.C. Jobs Plan regional economic investment pilot project forum. Setting the stage for the forum in December, Bell said, “I have believed for some time that there is the potential for a high-speed second-growth sawmill somewhere on central or northern Vancouver Island. I think it will be a very attractive place to build a new sawmill and create that value.”

Campbell River Mayor Walter Jakeway says, “it’s a great idea and I’m glad he’s thinking that way.”

However, the mayor cautions that most of the available island timber is already spoken for. “Western and TimberWest and all the small logging operations have got it all wrapped up. Perhaps the minister knows of a secret supply of timber?”

Just maybe Bell’s secret supply is a good chunk of the raw product the premier wants to keep shipping out unprocessed. M

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