Closure “devastating blow” to Canal Flats: Mayor
Twenty-four hours later, the news is still a crushing blow to Canal Flats residents.
The sawmill – the longest running major forest industry employer in the Columbia Valley – is closing in two months (Nov. 9).
About 80 millworkers will lose their jobs and the impact stemming into the broader community – forestry field workers and businesses – will also make its mark, as will the loss in revenue to big and small businesses region-wide that benefit from wages paid. The Village of Canal Flats also stands to lose significant taxation revenue.
“This is definitely a devastating blow to our community,” said Village of Canal Flats Mayor Ute Juras, admitting she was at a loss for words. “I’m hoping that I can get some time with the Premier at UBCM (the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference) to see what the province can do to help us out.”
A prevailing sense of ‘what’s next’ has lingered in the village of about 700 residents since Feb. 6 when it was announced that a shift would be dropped at the Canfor-owned mill in May, impacting about 81 employees.
Juras stated in the Regional District of East Kootenay boardroom that day: “Since they purchased the mill I have worked hard to keep the lines of communications open. They gave me the heads up, true to their word. I appreciate them doing that. At least they are not shutting down. That is the bright side of it.”
Nine months later, the mill, which has been operating since the CPR moved its sawmill from Bull River to Canal Flats in 1928, is heading toward lock-up.
Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald said he is not surprised to hear Canfor’s announcement.
“I am not particularly surprised that Canfor has made the decision to close the sawmill in Canal Flats, as forest corporations no longer have any responsibility to mill wood near where it is harvested, or to take into consideration the effects of their business decisions on the communities they work in,” said Macdonald.
“The news that Canfor is permanently closing their Canal Flats operation indicates just how little the BC Liberals care about forest dependent communities,” he noted in a press release.
In March 2015, Canal Flats Mayor Ute Juras wrote a letter to Minister of Forests, Lands and Resource Operations Steve Thomson raising concerns that Canfor was considering closing the Canal Flats operation.
“Mayor Juras has worked hard to ensure that the largest employer in her community continues to operate and contribute to the community, and she raised her concerns about a permanent shut down directly with the minister,” Macdonald related, adding he followed up Juras’ letter to the minister, by organizing a meeting on April 13, with the minister.
The minister also responded to Juras in a letter dated May 4, 2015. “During our meeting we noted that in 2003, the Forestry Revitalization Plan removed any appurtenancy (sic) obligation from the Forest Act agreements. In this case, it is not within my authority to compel any action on the part of Canfor that is not specifically detailed in legislation. While there is little that can be done to directly influence Forest Act agreement holders’ business decisions, I remain hopeful that Canal Flats’ history of encouraging investment and building effective partnerships with industry will continue to serve it well for years to come.”
Expressing hopefulness is not what Canal Flats workers needed to hear, Macdonald said.
“A minister being ‘hopeful’ is simply not good enough. The forest industry relies on the use of public resources, and forest policy is firmly the responsibility government. To simply throw up your hands and say it has nothing to do with us, is not good enough. Leaving an entire community in the lurch in this way is not good enough,” he said.
“At the very least, if we had a Job Protection Commissioner, the millworkers and the community would have the support of government to transition through this type of situation. But the people of Canal Flats and the Canfor employees do not even have that,” Macdonald concluded.
Canfor President and CEO Don Kayne said yesterday his company has no choice but to close the mill.
“A lack of economically available fibre supply for our Canal Flats operation, combined with depressed market conditions in the oil and gas and lumber markets that it serves, have brought operating losses we can no longer sustain. We recognize this decision will be difficult for our employees and the community of Canal Flats, and we are committed to doing what we can to ease that transition,” he said.