The B.C. government is getting a cool reception to a $5-million loan package being offered to contractors impacted by a seven-month forestry strike on Vancouver Island.
Premier John Horgan announced the aid, which will be made available to contractors in danger of losing their equipment due to the dispute, during a speech to the Truck Loggers Association (TLA) in Vancouver on Thursday.
“A labour disruption of seven months is unprecedented in B.C. history,” said Horgan.
“If you haven’t made a dollar since July, there’s not much that I can say to you that’s going to give you comfort other than that we are in this together.”
But Horgan appeared to resist further government intervention in the dispute, stressing that collective bargaining was the best way to resolve the issue.
Veteran mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers have been trying to help the two sides break the impasse.
“I have strongly urged both sides to get on with it,” Horgan said. “I am confident that this week and into early next week we will have something positive to say from the table.”
Those comments didn’t go over well with Vancouver Island municipal leaders, whose communities are hardest hit by the dispute between Western Forest Products (WFP) and the United Steelworkers (USW.)
Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams said the province needs to push harder to get a resolution.
“We certainly appreciate that the premier has come to the TLA to say a few words, but they were too few. We’re certainly hoping for something a little more substantial,” Adams said.
“I appreciate the position that the premier is in, but seven months is just too long, and I think it needs some government intervention to get the parties to the table with a time frame for resolution.”
Gaby Wickstrom, mayor of Port McNeill, stressed the impact the long-running strike was having, not just on forestry workers but her entire community.
“It’s just unbelievable to see people reduced to that level. They’re not supported by Western, they’re not supported by the union, and the government is failing them now,” she said.
“We’re seeing businesses on the verge, on the thin red line. We have people that are being laid off; some shops, they have one employee left.”
The B.C. Liberal opposition also called for more action, not just on Vancouver Island but provincewide, amid large-scale mill closures and curtailments affecting tens of thousands of workers.
“There are people seriously hurting all across the province in the forest industry. There was very little mention of the rest of the province,” said Nechako Lakes MLA and former forest minister John Rustad.
“For the people on the island, I think there was false hopes raised that the premier would be able to deliver something, and he failed to deliver anything for the people that are hurting.”
It remains unclear where the two sides of the strike are in bargaining.
On Friday, Labour Minister Harry Bains issued a statement saying the province was “hopeful and expectant” that the company and union would find a resolution.
“The Mediators continue to work with both the company and the union and have asked that parties not comment while this work is ongoing,” said Bains.
— With files from Global News’ Richard Zussman and the Canadian Press
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