One of the challenges all provincial and federal governments face is communicating policy in a manner that is easily understood by citizens.
On the surface, this may sound simple, but sometimes policy can be difficult to explain easily.
Further, opposition parties and other interest groups may either intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent policy in manner that may undermine or generate public opposition.
I mention these things as the current B.C. election has resulted in some issues being raised that require more information to properly scrutinize.
As an example of this in Merritt, one of the largest lumber mills has shut down in the past year creating significant hardship for many in this community.
As forestry is an area that falls into provincial jurisdiction, this has become an election issue, specifically as it has been alleged by some that the reason this mill closed is related to raw log exports.
In principal, most would agree exporting raw logs to be processed in mills outside of British Columbia should not occur if B.C. lumber mills are closing as a result of a lack of timber supply.
This raises the question why has no provincial government of any political stripe actually banned raw log exports once in power.
Part of the answer to this question is understanding how the process around exporting raw logs, technically known as “unmanufactured timber” actually works.
Essentially, the process involves three steps. The first step is to acquire an exemption of the requirement that lumber harvested in B.C. is also processed in B.C. Part of the exemption process involves advertising the timber supply in question to be potentially exported on a provincial list of timber for sale.
This bi-weekly advertising list means a domestic B.C. mill operator has the opportunity to buy these raw logs before they could be legally exported from B.C.
If there is an offer to purchase, an advisory committee will determine if that price is fair market value.
If the offer is deemed fair, the logs in question will remain in B.C. to be processed by the successfully bidding mill owner.
If there is no interest or suitable buyers found, the logs will be considered surplus for B.C.’s domestic needs and be eligible for export.
Once raw logs are deemed surplus, an application can be made for a permit to export the logs in question before moving on to the final stage of the process, which is a federal permit for export.
Why do some BC lumber mills not bid on these raw logs?
There are a number of reasons.
Many mills have become highly specialized in dealing with specific types of timber to produce a unique value-added product.
In some cases the timber may not be of the type or quality desired by the mill. In other circumstances the transport costs may not make purchasing logs economical.
Cost may be another factor, moreso if the raw logs are from a private forest owner or a First Nation looking to obtain maximum value.
The intent of my column is not to defend raw log exports as, ideally, I believe governments of all stripes support increased value-added wood manufacturing here in B.C.
Forestry remains a critically important industry to many communities and one challenge will be to encourage more investment into value-added processing operations with access to a range of markets.
Dan Albas is the Conservative MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.