MAPLE RIDGE, BC, CNW — The announcement of the closure of Hammond Cedar in Maple Ridge is the latest in a series of devastating sawmill closures in British Columbia that requires immediate and robust changes to forestry policy, says the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

In the last 18 years, B.C. has lost hundreds of sawmills and tens of thousands of jobs, while raw log exports remain at record high levels.

In the first term of the then-B.C. Liberal government, sweeping changes were made to decades of B.C. forest policy and any notion of a social contract that tied logs to communities was decimated. B.C.’s forests were no longer viewed as a resource belonging to the people of this province that should be harvested in a way that maximizes employment opportunities and benefits for British Columbians.

This radical change was a departure from long-standing provincial policy, which existed through governments of different political stripes.

Since then we have witnessed the steady decline of an industry that was once synonymous with British Columbia. Fewer companies are controlling more of the harvest of public timber in B.C. and taking their profits out of the province to fuel expansion, particularly in the U.S. South where labour is cheap. In the case of Interfor, despite a long list of mill closures, the company still holds a major TFL on the coast. With the closure of Hammond Cedar, Interfor operates only one coastal sawmill, continues to export raw logs and owns 13 mills in the United States.

Our province, our people and our communities are paying a heavy price for this approach.

In the instance of Hammond Cedar and other unionized sawmills that have closed, the United Steelworkers has collective agreements to protect our members and we fight to ensure they are treated with the fairness, dignity and respect they deserve. We are able to negotiate robust packages, assist with retraining, job placement and hiring preference for displaced workers. Non-unionized workers are left with none of this support.

British Columbia still has a forest industry, but it will continue on the current trajectory unless forest policy again reflects B.C. forests as a public resource to be utilized in a way that maximizes domestic jobs and local benefits. The USW will continue to strongly advocate that the provincial government and industry move in that direction.