Softwood lumber is pictured at Tolko Industries in Heffley Creek, B.C., on April, 1, 2018. The crisis facing British Columbia’s forest industry is intensifying as markets decline, mills shut and a strike involving 3,000 forestry workers enters its seventh month. The multiple threats are deeper than the global meltdown of 2008 and may rival the damage wrought by B.C.’s 1980s recession, setting off massive industry restructuring, says an insider who is hearing from many people on the brink of financial collapse. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Softwood lumber is pictured at Tolko Industries in Heffley Creek, B.C., on April, 1, 2018. The crisis facing British Columbia’s forest industry is intensifying as markets decline, mills shut and a strike involving 3,000 forestry workers enters its seventh month. The multiple threats are deeper than the global meltdown of 2008 and may rival the damage wrought by B.C.’s 1980s recession, setting off massive industry restructuring, says an insider who is hearing from many people on the brink of financial collapse. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

The crisis facing British Columbia’s forest industry is intensifying as markets decline, mills shut and a strike involving 3,000 forestry workers enters its seventh month.

The multiple threats are deeper than the global meltdown of 2008 and may rival the damage wrought by B.C.’s 1980s recession, setting off massive industry restructuring, says an insider who is hearing from many people on the brink of financial collapse.

“There’s a whole bunch of things swirling around that’s causing a whole world of hurt for people working in this industry,” said David Elstone, executive director for the B.C. Truck Loggers Association.

“Many people are saying this is worse than 2008. Back in 2008, the industry was in rough shape but so was the rest of the world in tough shape with the global financial crisis.”

Other factors hitting B.C.’s forest industry now include low timber prices, less demand from Asian markets, U.S. tariffs, high cost structures, government fees or stumpage rates, timber supply shortages, mill closures in B.C.’s Interior and the strike on Vancouver Island, he said.

“Time will hopefully end the strike,” said Elstone. “Time will hopefully help us recover markets.”

Late last year, Finance Ministry budget numbers revealed forest revenues were down 11 per cent and projected harvest volumes of 46 million cubic metres were the lowest in years.

Among the mill closures was Mosaic Forest Management on Vancouver Island, which announced an early winter shutdown of timber harvesting operations, putting 2,000 people out of work indefinitely.

About 175 workers at a mill owned by Tolko Industries in Kelowna lost their jobs with the operation’s permanent closure on Jan. 8. Last year Canfor’s permanent closure of its mill in Vavenby, north of Kamloops, resulted in the loss of 172 jobs in the community of about 700 people.

Elstone said he heard from many forest industry contractors at the recent Truck Loggers Association annual convention who are struggling to make ends meet, especially from those on Vancouver Island where the strike has hit hard.

“It goes well beyond the 3,000 workers being affected,” he said. “My membership, the contractors, employ the majority of the workers. It goes to the tire shops, the dealerships, the grocery stores.”

Premier John Horgan spoke at the convention Thursday, saying the government will make $5 million available for loans to help contractors in danger of losing their equipment due to the strike.

He said he was aware many of the contractors have not been able to work since last July when the strike between Western Forest Products and members of the Steelworkers union started.

Horgan mentioned the challenges facing B.C.’s forest industry, including U.S. duties on B.C. softwood exports, mill closures in the Interior, two consecutive wildfire seasons and ongoing structural changes in the industry. But he said the strike remains deeply concerning.

“The elephant in the room is abundantly clear to everyone here,” said Horgan. “A labour disruption of seven months is unprecedented in B.C. history. If you haven’t made a dollar since July, there’s not much I can say to you that’s going to give you comfort other than we are indeed in this together.”

Horgan said he has contacted both the company and the union and firmly suggested they negotiate a settlement. He said he expected some movement next week but did not elaborate.

The company said in a statement Friday it is waiting for contact from the mediators in the dispute.

“Western is doing everything we can to reach a mutually beneficial settlement with the USW,” said the statement. “We continue to take our lead from mediators, Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers, and we are awaiting word on next steps.”

Elstone said the Truck Loggers Association appreciated Horgan’s appearance at the convention.

“By being there he did demonstrate he is concerned himself,” said Elstone. “He did say what’s been going on with the length of the strike is unacceptable. I will give the premier credit for showing some strong emotion and trying to reach out and show some empathy for people who are suffering right now with their livelihoods in question with the strike and the forest industry crisis in general.”

Opposition Liberals forestry critic John Rustad also attended the convention and said the premier’s speech did not provide much relief to contractors facing financial hard times.

“They’re frustrated. They’re angry,” he said. “They want to be working and they aren’t working. They’re financially stressed. It was probably the most sombre truck loggers convention I’ve attended in all the years I’ve been going to them.”

READ MORE: B.C. offers $5 million equipment loan program to help ailing forest contractors

READ MORE: Fewer trees, higher costs blamed for devastating downturn in B.C. forestry

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Gurinder Mann. (Submitted photo)
Surrey man receives prestigious restorative justice award

East Newton resident Gurinder Mann one of five to receive a Community Safety and Crime Prevention Award

TEASE PHOTO: Teens at the Bumpers dance club in Whalley in the 1980s, in a photo posted to the "Bumpers / The Zone OFFICIAL Party Page" on Facebook.com.
SURREY NOW & THEN: Bumpers and other teen dance clubs were big in the 1980s

A weekly look back at Surrey-area landmark sites and events

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
Surrey Police Service looking to hire in-house lawyer

Solicitor to work within Office of the Chief Constable, serve on internal and external committees to ‘represent the SPS’s interests’

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Tyler Tardi will serve as a fifth on Team Laycock at the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier. (Black Press Media file photo)
Tyler Tardi to serve as alternate for B.C. team at Brier

Langley/Cloverdale curler to serve as ‘fifth’ on Team Laycock at Calgary-hosted championships

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Competitors make their way through the course at the 2019 Canadian Cross Country Championships, which was hosted by Abbotsford in 2019. (File photo)
Abbotsford to host 2023 Canadian Cross Country Championships

Clearbrook Park last hosted the event in 2019, Ottawa hosting 2021 and 2022 races

Most Read