Opposition politicians are calling on B.C. Premier John Horgan to reduce the tax load on forest companies as they deal with log shortages, slumping lumber prices and continued import duties from the United States.
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and forests critic John Rustad released a letter to Horgan on Thursday, calling for reduction of carbon tax charged to forest companies, and stumpage fees collected by the province for harvesting of timber from Crown land.
“John Horgan needs to hold himself accountable, stop making excuses and stop the job losses in this province,” Rustad said. “At a time when forestry workers across the province should be hard at work, instead they are facing job losses and no paycheques.”
Forests Minister Doug Donaldson said Thursday the province must proceed carefully on any changes to B.C. stumpage is well known to incite protests from U.S. lumber producers, who have argued for decades that B.C.’s lumber is subsidized by artificially low cost of logs.
“Messing with the stumpage system is not a solution,” Donaldson told Black Press.
Donaldson also noted that during his bried time as forests minister in 2017, Rustad predicted up to 10 mills closing due to the decline in timber supply due to pine beetle damage.
Canfor, Interfor, West Fraser, Tolko and other lumber producers have announced temporary and permanent mill closures across the province in recent weeks, citing the scarcity of sawlogs in the B.C. Interior and a long slide in prices for construction lumber in recent months.
The downturn has spread to oriented strandboard producers. Louisiana Pacific announced Thursday it is shutting down its OSB production facility in Taylor, B.C. in August, after a similar announcement by Norbord for its OSB plant in 100 Mile House earlier this week.
Wilkinson and Rustad are calling on the B.C. government to reduce stumpage and carbon tax on forest companies, their logging contractors and other businesses that depend on the forest industry “until market conditions stabilize.”
Their suggestions include creating a fund for communities hit by the recent closures and curtailments, to put laid-off employees to work on wildfire prevention projects. Fuel load from decades of forest fire suppression has been a factor in recent record fire seasons.
Wildfire prevention projects are being funded and federal and provincial governments are working together to provide “short-term support for workers and communities,” Donaldson said.