Editor’s Note: The Daily Courier is asking candidates within their readership areas a series of 12 questions. Each candidate was given the question in writing with a word maximum of 120.
QUESTION: What can and should the federal government do to address the forestry crisis in British Columbia?
DAN ALBAS (Conservative): Although this is primarily a provincial area, there is a role for leadership from the federal government. There are a number of important initiatives starting with a softwood lumber agreement. The Trudeau Liberal government has been completely silent on this point. Secondly is we need a competitive regulatory and fiscal environment. Lumber mills in B.C. now have higher payroll costs thanks to increased CPP and the provincial employer health taxes. The carbon tax increase added on to these other tax increases all adds higher costs to B.C. lumber mills that competing lumber mills in the United States do not face and this needs to be addressed. I, along with other Conservative MPs from B.C., asked for the Trudeau government in July to come to the table and since then 21 mayors, as well as the B.C. government have asked them repeatedly for collaboration. Again these requests have been rebuffed by pointing to past actions or silence.
ALLAN DUNCAN (People’s Party of Canada): Forestry has given fulfilling careers and provision and prosperity to people, families, and communities for generations. In consideration of the hardship and uncertainty faced by people due to the challenges in the B.C. forestry industry, I extend my sympathies. Our international trade deals must continually be managed with careful diligence. So many people, families and communities depend on these huge and complex deals enduring capacity to benefit Canadians. The federal government must obtain the best deals possible and seek new markets to expand into. Currently, the federal government can assist those affected by the B.C. forestry crisis through the existing systems to aid worker transitions to new jobs. EI benefits can be extended with extensions also covering re-training.
ROBERT MELLALIEU (Green): Nothing. This crisis is the responsibility of the provincial government. However, we can all learn a costly lesson. This "crisis" was well-predicted by experts many years ago. B.C. governments allowed too many trees to be cut — to gain votes. Voters believed the politicians could somehow cut trees faster than they were growing trees and voted for those governments. Voters must not make this mistake again. We must listen to the experts. Vote for politicians and parties who listen to science.
MARY ANN MURPHY (Liberal): The forestry crisis in B.C. is a perfect storm of a variety of factors, including low lumber prices, stumpage fees, reductions in allowable cuts, and infestations of mountain pine and spruce beetles. The B.C. government’s $69 million September aid package was a prompt provincial response, including providing for early retirement funds to qualifying workers. The federal government can assist and provide leadership in areas including: supports for worker retraining; loan relief and grants for students/apprentices hoping to enter the industry; financial support for new entrepreneurship and infrastructure transitioned for related industry uses; and, funding for municipal economic diversification (into other industries e.g. tourism growth) — including priorities such as those recently set by Merritt’s mayor and council.
JOAN PHILLIP (NDP): If we are harvesting trees here in British Columbia, we should be processing those trees here. These raw logs shouldn’t be shipped overseas to be processed, that’s why we’re seeing the sawmills in our communities close. We rely on those jobs. I would work with the provincial government to improve this. We could create hundreds of jobs just by committing to replanting trees. But also, so much about our forestry industry needs to be transformed to meet our growing climate crisis. Were the wildfires we’ve experienced in the Interior not a crisis? Is the flooding we are experiencing due to over harvesting not a crisis? We need to look at the problem holistically.
TRAVIS ASHLEY (Green): While we still cut down our old growth forests and focus on clear cutting, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to economic shifts at the expense of our forestry workers and our ecosystem. Canada has failed to work with Indigenous and establish responsible logging, such as selective, and demand better prices in the world market while putting more emphasis on value added goods. With milder winters and hotter summers and outrageous wildfires due to climate change, the proliferation of the pine beetle has reduced over 50% of merchantable pine into match sticks. This is the doing of irresponsible human activity and government regulation. Our lack of preparatory economical actions has led us into this mess. We need strong leadership.
JOHN BARR (People’s Party of Canada): Forestry is under provincial jurisdiction, so the responsibility rests with the B.C. government and the forestry minister. One contributing factor to this issue is the historical mismanagement by the province, of the Pine Beetle epidemic. However, pointing fingers will not solve the immediate problem that we face. The danger of responding with federal assets towards this crisis, is creating dependencies on government, rather than looking for innovative solutions that private industry can provide.
STEPHEN FUHR (Liberal): In addition to a number of existing programs to include Employment Insurance benefits, skills and training supports and Service Canada offerings the Government of Canada announced close to $90 million to extend Work-Sharing, a job retention program. This funding also helped to enable the province to deliver skills training and employment services for affected workers in the softwood lumber industry. Just prior to the dissolution of Parliament, I met with our local MLAs and was in the process of determining what more the federal government could do to help our local forestry workers. I will resume this important work should I be re-elected on Oct 21st.
TRACY GRAY (Conservative): We have seen first hand in Kelowna with the recent shutdown of Tolko for an indeterminate amount of time laying off just under 130 local employees. The forestry crisis in B.C. is yet another example of the Trudeau Liberal’s assault on the resource sector including this standstill with softwood lumber negotiations. A Conservative government will work with the provinces to address the lingering softwood lumber dispute, the remaining buy American provisions, the disjointed regulatory regimes, and the difficulties with cross-border business travel. Canadians and our forestry workers deserve better.
JUSTIN KULIK (NDP): We have a responsibility to ensure that people can afford to live well, and we want to make sure that people don’t have to worry if their job opportunities are changing. We will ensure dependable employment insurance is available so people don’t have to worry about where their money if coming from. We will invest where previous governments have not. Rural Canada has been let down time and time again, it’s time for a change. We will expand EI benefits and re-train those whose jobs have been lost due to shifting opportunities. The global economy is changing, as are Canadian jobs, but current and previous governments have left workers to find solutions on their own.
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Friday: Should the federal government increase subsidies as a way of encouraging people to buy electric vehicles?