“I’m happy to hear that they’re willing to help and are doing something, but there’s lots to do,” Bill Nelson, president of the B.C. Truck Loggers Association.
January 16, 2020
Premier John Horgan promised to help B.C.’s coastal-logging sector suffering through a now-unprecedented seven month strike and on Thursday offered a $5-million gesture to assist contractors at-risk of losing equipment to the banks.
Horgan, speaking to a lunch crowd of about 300 at the Truck Loggers Association’s annual convention, announced what he called the coastal-logging equipment trust, which should start being available to contractors before month’s end.
“Before Christmas, we said we would have something in place before too long,” Horgan said in unveiling the trust, which will be aimed at bridging loans for contractors at-risk of losing heavy equipment because of the dispute.
Some 3,000 loggers with the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 went on strike July 1 against major forestry firm Western Forest Products in a dispute that has exhausted ordinary bargaining and drawn in special mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers.
The assistance is welcome, but what the industry really needs is to get back to work, said association president Bill Nelson.
“I wouldn’t say (I am) disappointed,” Nelson said. “I’m happy to hear that they’re willing to help and are doing something, but there’s lots to do.”
Just having Horgan come to the event and acknowledge the industry’s problems “is huge,” Nelson said, and the money will help contractors struggling with equipment payments and the costs of restarting operations once the dispute ends.
“It will help bridge the gap if (contractors) can’t make payments,” said Nelson, who is also a partner in Campbell-River-based Holbrook Dyson Logging Ltd. “But how long is that gap?”
Horgan told the crowd that parties to the dispute have “the best mediator in Canada” working with them and “as the days go by this week into next week, I’m confident there will be something positive to say from the table.”
Labour Minister Harry Bains was also at the event and said that he asked Ready, who was hired independently in relation to the dispute, to report directly to him and to engage with both sides “in an expedited manner.”
And “without divulging what’s happening at the table,” Bains said he’s confident they’re “moving in the right direction.”
Government has been under pressure to take more direct action by calling an industry inquiry commission or legislate a cooling-off period, which is in its power.
However, while Horgan said, “I agree with you that seven months is ridiculous and agree it is unsustainable going forward,” a lasting agreement between the parties has to be a negotiated deal where both sides give-and-take.
Nelson said logging contractors have been caught in the middle of the dispute and don’t agree or disagree with particular positions at this point, they just want the dispute resolved.
“Leaders have to be leaders,” said Nelson, whose firm usually employs about 85 people, but has done no work since July 1 when the dispute began. “You look around the province and how many companies could go seven months without working?”
Besides the dispute, Horgan said the industry will still be left with competitive and structural challenges that he committed to sort out with industry.
David Elstone, the association’s executive director, said the premier’s speech alone, acknowledging the crisis that the industry is in, was a positive step.
However, the next big thing government also needs to deal with is protecting a working forest to sustain the industry. At the moment, Elstone said contractors are worried that a strategic review of old-growth forest protection will result in further erosion of the land base for forestry.
“At the end of the day, my membership wasn’t looking for a handout or that kind of support,” Elstone said. “What they’re looking for is to get back to work.”