MLA Report: Canal Flats mill closure was preventable

One of our Kootenay communities recently received a massive blow, affecting not just the Village of Canal Flats

One of our Kootenay communities recently received a massive blow, affecting not just the Village of Canal Flats, but also workers throughout the area.

The closure of the mill, the community’s biggest employer, will be devastating.

There has been a mill in Canal Flats for more than 100 years, using wood from the forests that surround Canal Flats.

Following the closure announcement, Canal Flats Mayor Ute Juras and I met with the Premier and the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.

I appreciate that meeting with the Premier, and I found the Premier’s commitment to helping find a replacement industry for the mill encouraging.

Our communities are surrounded by healthy forests and there are new markets for manufactured wood products. There are new and exciting wood products that could be manufactured, so there are reasons to be optimistic.

However, the truth is that this is an effort that will be complicated by the lack of control and influence our government now has to manage the use of our forests for local jobs.

In 2003, the B.C. Liberal government ended the connection between communities and their surrounding forests in many ways. They removed the requirement on corporations to ensure local jobs came from local wood. Corporations with rights to cut in an area can now ship that wood anywhere in the province.

Back in the 1990s when I was in local government, communities like Revelstoke got control of their surrounding forests and established a Community Forest Corporation to support their local manufacturers.

In that same timeframe, Golden was able to save its threatened mill, and that mill still operates to this day.

The 2003 changes removed the tools to protect local mills that had promoted Revelstoke’s and Golden’s forest industry to provide employment in the community.

But as the assurances for local employment were removed by the BC Liberals, we watched as 200 mills across British Columbia were permanently closed.

This shift in policy had consequences. Residents of Canal Flats and the laid-off workers from the Canal Flats operation can still watch truckloads of local wood driven out of their area to other mills. This forestry policy does not serve this community or this area.

So while I am thankful that the Premier is willing to work with the Village of Canal Flats to find a replacement industry, the position that Canal Flats finds itself in is a consequence of actions taken by government in 2003.

We live in an area that is rich in opportunity with capable and entrepreneurial citizens so there is always reason to be optimistic.

But this is a crisis that the Village of Canal Flats should not have been forced to face.

Norm Macdonald is the NDP MLA for Columbia River Revelstoke. He can be reached by phone at 1-866-870-4188 and by email at norm.macdonald.mla@leg.bc.ca.

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