B.C.’s premier toured a Castlegar sawmill Wednesday, saying he was optimistic about the future of the province’s forest industry.
“I’m absolutely enthusiastic about the future of forestry,” said Premier John Horgan. “There are challenges, there are market challenges, but markets change all the time.
“What you need is a solid foundation of skilled workers, which we have here, a fibre basket, which we have here, and a modern facility that can maximize the benefit of every log.”
Horgan spent the day visiting two West Kootenay lumber companies. At the Kalesnikoff Lumber mill in Thrums he heard about plans to build a state-of-the-art facility for construction timber; at the Interfor mill in Castlegar he was told how a $100-million investment by the company over the last five years meant new markets for B.C. forest products.
It’s the adoption of new technology, he said, that will help secure jobs in the lumber industry in the future.
“It’s so important to our economy to make sure we use the best available technology to ensure we’re getting every scrap of fibre put into the marketplace in the best possible way,” he told a crowd of employees at the end of his tour. “And this mill, and the investment that Interfor has made for the past five years is a testament to what the forest sector can be now, and well into the future.”
Horgan acknowledged there were issues — from softwood lumber disputes with the U.S. to beetle-killed forest to low prices — that a government couldn’t address.
“I can’t fix that,” he admitted. “But I can work with industry to make sure we soften that blow. I talked to the federal government for them upping their game for programs for those who are displaced, but at the end of the day I think we are going to sail into the future because of technological change that allows us to do better with the wood that we’re bringing out of the forest.”
About 30 workers from the plant gathered to hear the premier — members of the local United Steelworkers — and were appreciative of his message.
“I’d like to thank you for your time, your commitment, and your support, towards the forest industry,” said Gary Popoff. “We need that and we appreciate that.
“Thanks for your time and keep up the good work.”
“My family lives in this community and the lumber mill keeps us going, so it’s what we need,” added J.J. Beck. “So we’re very, very thankful and very appreciative of your work.”
The premier acknowledged that challenges remain, but returned to the point on co-operation being key to success.
“It’s not new to anyone in the forest industry. It’s a cyclical industry, prices are up prices are down,” he said. “Access to timber changes from season to season, circumstance to circumstance. But I am confident that if we work together — Steelworkers, industry, community — we’re going to get to the right place for all of us.”