With the BC government’s promise of tens of thousands of jobs in a new liquefied natural gas industry in tatters, the province’s long-neglected forest industry has the potential to help close the widening employment gap between heavily populated areas like the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province.
The provincial government regulates this industry, but for the past four years it has offered no substantive policies to stimulate job growth in the sector that has historically been the economic backbone of many rural BC communities.
The most visible consequence of this laissez-faire approach is the rising wave of raw, unprocessed logs that leave the province annually, resulting in an ever- shrinking number of jobs per trees cut.
Since 2013, the year Premier Christy Clark led her government to re-election, nearly 26 million cubic metres of raw logs with a combined sales value of more than $3 billion were shipped out of BC. Last year alone, nearly 6.3 million cubic meters of raw logs were exported, enough to build 134,000 houses, or roughly half of Vancouver’s standing single-family homes. In recent years, well over half of all exported logs came from public or Crown lands, rather than private lands, as was the historic norm. In other words, most of the exported raw logs originated on lands under provincial jurisdiction.
No previous BC government has sanctioned such a high level of raw log exports on its watch or been so mute about the consequences. Well, it’s long past time that the government’s conspicuous silence on the issue ended.
New research just published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that had the raw logs exported from the province last year been run through mills here at home rather than elsewhere, a conservative estimate of 3,600 more jobs would have been created (and at a fraction of the investment cost of just one LNG plant).
The conclusion comes on the heels of other research, also by the CCPA, that shows conclusively that BC is a province deeply divided between ‘have’ regions like the Lower Mainland and Greater Victoria, where the number of jobs has marginally increased, and ‘have nots’ just about everywhere else. Job numbers may be up somewhat in populous, urban regions, but they are down everywhere else. The Premier’s much-touted Jobs Plan simply isn’t delivering across much of the province.
Over the past decade, 22,400 jobs have been lost in the province’s forest industry, a 27-per-cent decline. As those jobs disappeared, centuries-old trees from old-growth forests were logged and shipped away in their least processed form.
Nearly 40 per cent of what leaves BC in raw log form today is from old-growth forests. The rest comes from second-growth stands that are our forests of the future.
Also alarming is that some of the province’s biggest raw log exporters do not operate a single sawmill. Even worse: under the provincial government’s current rules companies can close existing mills and export raw logs instead.
Continuing on this path is an unacceptable recipe for deep and lasting social, economic and environmental pain, and the issue must be part of the conversation in the coming provincial election campaign.
This conversation should be guided by the premise that when we use BC’s natural resources we do so in a way that creates thousands of jobs for rural and First Nation communities in everything from artisanal jobs producing high value First Nations’ artworks to millworker jobs producing the lumber components used to construct homes and other buildings.
To get that conversation started, two forest industry unions – the Public and Private Workers of Canada and Unifor - and three leading environmental organizations – the Ancient Forest Alliance, Sierra Club BC and Wilderness Committee - are calling on the government to take action by introducing a simple, three-point plan.
- Place an immediate ban on all exports of raw logs from old-growth forests.
- Immediately impose progressively higher taxes on log exports from second-growth forests as an inducement for investing in domestic mills.
- Introduce new policies to increase value-added manufacturing and jobs in rural and First Nations communities.
It’s beyond time that the provincial government ended years of policies that remove value from our forests. Why should workers outside our province benefit from our natural capital while our forests and forest industry workers suffer the deep and completely unnecessary consequences of flawed policy?
Scott Doherty is executive assistant to Unifor national president Jerry Dias; Ben Parfitt is a resource policy analyst with the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and author of new research on log exports available at policynote.ca; Jens Wieting is coastal forest campaigner with Sierra Club BC.