Stop treating BC's Interior like a colony

Eyeview
By David Charbonneau
April 20, 2017 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — Premier Clark’s plan for job growth in B.C.’s Interior is a failure. Her plan to extract liquefied natural gas from the Interior evaporated. She is sending more raw logs out of the Interior than any other government according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Clark treats B.C.’s Interior like a colony of Victoria: drill for natural gas and sell it overseas with no regard to the contamination of water or earthquakes that fracking causes; send raw logs — and the jobs that go with them — elsewhere instead of restoring those jobs in the Interior.

The Interior-as-colony mentality didn’t always exist. Before 2003, the government made sure jobs stayed in the communities where trees were logged. That meant sawmill workers could earn good wages where they lived. Once logging companies were free of that obligation, they shut down mills. Since 1997, 100 mills have closed and 22,400 jobs have been lost.

That loss of jobs means a transfer of wealth out of the Interior. By my calculation, the loss of the above jobs amounts to $1.5 billion.

Since 2013, when Premier Clark was elected, nearly 26 million cubic metres of raw logs worth more than $3 billion were shipped out of BC. No previous BC government has sanctioned such a high level of raw log exports. Last year, about 6.3 million cubic metres of raw logs left the province. Had those logs been turned into forest products in the interior, 3,600 workers could have been employed.

We can do better. B.C. does a poor job of extracting value from our publicly-owned forests compared to other provinces. Ontario’s value-added wood industry was almost three times that of B.C.

B.C. should be a leader in extracting value from our forests, not a laggard. Waste wood can be used for more than paper mills and as fuel to generate electricity. That’s a good start, says The Forest Products Association of Canada. They suggest other uses for waste wood; make wood pellets to heat homes, manufacture alcohol for vehicles, and make solvents for industry.

In addition to these bio-products, engineered wood products add more value. Such building systems include wall panels and roof trusses that are made from lumber in factory settings. The completed pieces are then moved to construction sites where they are secured into place, forming the walls, floors and roofs of finished houses or multiple-dwelling buildings.

In one demonstration, two identical triplexes were constructed in Edmonton.  The pre-fabricated building went up faster, with less on-site waste than the building next door.

Victoria can afford to be blasé. Vancouver Island gained 9,000 jobs last year; two-thirds of them went to Victoria. The Lower Mainland did OK as well, gaining 94 per cent of all B.C. jobs.

All other regions outside of Victoria and the Lower Mainland lost jobs last year compared to 2008 before the Great Recession (CCPA Monitor, March 2017).

Rather than treating the interior as a colony the government should create jobs and wealth where people live. The forestry sector is an obvious place to start since forestry has a proven record as a job creator.

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