B.C.’s new parliamentary secretary for forests has been mandated to focus on the many challenges Interior communities are facing.
Earlier this month, Ravi Kahlon was appointed to the position. Kahlon is joining Forests Minister Doug Donaldson and his deputy minister, John Allan, as they work to support rural communities through layoffs, mill closures and curtailments.
Kahlon has been travelling to rural communities to speak with municipal governments, industry professionals and local residents.
“I didn’t want to waste any time, so I got on the road,” said Kahlon.
The Interior forest industry faces unique challenges,” said Premier John Horgan, in a letter to Kahlon. “The government and the industry has known for many years that the end of Mountain Pine Beetle harvests would create significant challenges for Interior forest-dependent communities. These challenges have been exacerbated as the Interior fibre supply declines, access to low-cost timber decreases, lumber prices decline and the competition for available fibre increases. This, combined with two consecutive catastrophic wildfire seasons and an oversupply in manufacturing capacity, has placed real pressure on forest workers and their communities.”
Kahlon said he felt it was important to hear from the people directly in order to address the short-term challenges while working towards the future of the industry.
“We are having discussions focused on where the forest industry is going to go from here,” said Kahlon. “I don’t think there is a person that I have yet to meet, that doesn’t understand that we cannot continue doing business the way we have.”
While the industry continues to face these challenges, it is an industry that will remain a cornerstone for the economy. Last week, Kahlon stopped in 100 Mile House seeking input from the mayor, council and industry professionals.
“We heard about some short term things they would like to see and we promised to deliver,” said Kahlon. Fundamentally, they are really concerned about their people, the small businesses and contractors. We talked about adding more mental health supports for the people who are struggling, potential new economic opportunities, the forests and what can be done to get more value out of it.”
Kahlon said it was difficult to visit communities and hear about the challenges they are facing and the work that is behind the industry transition.
“I think we (previous government) have missed some opportunities but we have an opportunity now to really rethink how we are going to use our timber and diversify the economy.”