Vancouver Sun — B.C’s Minister of Forests Doug Donaldson has hand-delivered a direct plea for federal help in dealing with the cascading affects of the growing crisis in British Columbia’s forest industry.

According to a report in the Vancouver Sun, Donaldson wrote to federal Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi asking for federal support to deal with the “urgent need” for specific assistance.

Donaldson handed the letter to Sohi’s deputy minister Christyne Tremblay Tuesday during the annual Canadian Council of Forest Ministers conference at Waskesiu Lake, Sask.

In the letter Donaldson proposed that his deputy minister John Allan and Tremblay work together on adjusting Employment Insurance eligibility requirements for laid-off mill workers, developing early retirement incentives, and establishing worker transition offices.

Donaldson said that a provincial rural development team has been working with communities where mill closures have happened, but the “targeted interventions that were presented in the letter are a matter of urgency,” he said.

Opposition forestry critic John Rustad, the MLA for Nechako Lakes, said the measures mirror what his caucus said Donaldson and Premier John Horgan should have been asking for two months ago.

“If we can get any help, that’s good news,” Rustad said, because “there are workers and families and communities that are absolutely desperate and the challenge they are facing is not going to end soon.”

The increasing woes of B.C.’s forest industry are evident in trade figures, which show declining lumber shipments abroad with the biggest drop being in exports to B.C.’s biggest customer, the United States.

B.C.’s American lumber exports fell to 6.8 million cubic metres by the end of June 2019 from 7.6 million in the same period a year ago due to poor market conditions that have exacerbated timber supply issues.

The mountain pine beetle infestation of interior forests, along with successive years of record forest fires, have decimated available timber and contributed to production cuts at 22 B.C. mills, and three permanent closures.

Earlier this year, an industry analyst estimated up to a dozen mills would have to shut down to align with B.C.’s shrinking timber base.

Rustad said he is “extremely disappointed” that B.C. waited until just before the federal government issues the writ for a general election in the fall instead of asking for federal assistance while Parliament was still in session.

“There could have been solid dialogue between politicians … in order to get the help needed,” Rustad said.

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