Dene Moore: For families and communities struggling to survive the forestry crisis, an information vacuum is particularly frustrating.
On Wednesday – nearly two years after the first of an onslaught of mill closures were announced and well more than a year after most – the province announced that job placement coordination offices to help forestry workers are now open in five Interior B.C. communities: 100 Mile House, Fort St. James, Fort St. John, Mackenzie, and Clearwater.
Each office has a coordination officer who is themselves a displaced forestry worker. So there are at least five of the thousands of affected forest sector workers who have found jobs. As for the others…meh.
More than a week ago, I asked two communications staff in the Labour ministry for updates on the forest worker support programs announced last fall.
- How much has been spent to date on the support programs?
- How many applications have been received for retirement bridging?
- How many applications for training funds have been approved?
No statistics at all were made available about the $69 million in support funding promised for Interior forestry workers announced in September. And let’s not forget that $25 million of those funds were actually diverted from the B.C. Rural Dividend program.
[Note – after publication, Ministry of Labour Communications forwarded the following: “We’ve received 683 Bridging to Retirement applications to date, and have sent out 45 approval letters to eligible applicants. The ministry is actively processing files to assist eligible forest workers transition to retirement.”]
So there are at least five of the thousands of affected forest sector workers who have found jobs. As for the others…meh.
Perhaps those attending the 77th annual Truck Loggers Association will have had better luck getting answers at their annual convention at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver this week.
Or maybe not. From what I understand, Premier John Horgan did not take any questions from the floor following his speech.
“There’s not much that I can say to you that’s going to give you comfort, other than that we are indeed in this together,” Horgan told the convention attendees.
But are we? How many forestry workers are there in Victoria? Or in Metro Vancouver, the NDP’s power base? The reality is the NDP formed government without many seats in affected communities.
Horgan did pledge $5 million for loans to contractors at risk of losing their equipment during the prolonged labour dispute between Western Forest Products and the Steelworkers union in Port McNeill and Campbell River. Keyword: union.
That is salt in the wound for some of the Interior workers, who have no contract resolution that could put them back to work.
“The stoppage of work in the forestry industry has meant we have not had any logging income since the end of March,” says Leslie Rankin, whose husband Bill and son Bryden own three log processors and sub-contract logging work near Quesnel.
Full disclosure: Bill is my cousin, and he’s far from my only relative employed in the logging industry.
Bill and Bryden planned for a two-month work stoppage during break-up, the spring melt season that forces a halt to logging operations. In June, word began circulating that the Quesnel mills would not start up again.
“The guys stopped all repair work as many companies have to buy repairs on credit or accounts and with no date to start earning that revenue there is no way to pay bills in a timely manner.”
To make things worse, the mills owe contractors the outstanding balance for logs that are harvested but can’t be hauled. The mills pay a percentage up front but the remainder is on hold until those logs cross the mill scales.
That didn’t happen last year.
“The guys stopped all repair work as many companies have to buy repairs on credit.”
So contractors who spent the money to harvest the wood have yet to be paid for it. They are not eligible for the $5 million contractor equipment loan program.
“We have now gone seven months with no income from logging,” Leslie said late last year. Bill and Bryden started back to work in the logging industry just before Christmas.
And they’re among the lucky ones. They have a private lender who has been “very understanding,” she says.
“Many guys have had machines repossessed, lost their homes or have had to move to other provinces to find work.”
Leslie, who left her job at a private school in September, applied for training funds. As the part-time bookkeeper for the family business, she hoped additional bookkeeping training could be helpful.
She was turned down.
“I was told I could not use the training in our own business and that I only would receive a record of attendance after an eight-month course,” Leslie says.
“We are just holding on.”
Her husband and son were able to get work with a contractor doing pipeline work in the Peace region until they returned to the bush last month.
“We are just holding on.”
“I hear many saying that it is the government’s fault this happened but I believe that the issues are not so black and white. Many factors go into this past ten months and they are complicated at best,” Leslie says.
The logging industry is one of good times and bad, she says.
“Please remember that for every 2×4 that is bought in the building store there has been approximately 25 individual people whose job it is to get it there.”
Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.