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As part of an ongoing trend that is predicted to worsen in 2023, numerous mills across rural B.C have shut down or temporarily halted production in an effort to conserve as much profit as possible after a recent temporary boom in the industry ended. This policy may be economically sound for forestry company owners and shareholders, but it has left forestry workers and rural communities in a state of crisis.
In January 2023, 300 jobs were lost as a result of Canfor's decision to shut down it's pulp mill in Prince George. Canfor also closed its mills in Chetwynd and Houston, relocating much of its assets to South Carolina where labour is much cheaper. On top of that, Western Forest Products permanently closed its mill in Port Alberni after initially claiming only a temporary shut down would occur, causing 100 people to lose their jobs. This is only a recent snapshot of a 3-decade long trend of forestry sector shutdowns that have cost 40,000 jobs in B.C.
Carson, a 74-year-old resident of Agassiz, B.C., when asked by North Star about the cause of the closures, said he believed it's about "money, it's all got to do with money. They are closing it to make more money, it starts with the shareholders crying that they want more money." He also said that "if the workers would say they'll take less, they [the owners & shareholders] will just take it and line their pockets."
"It's gonna kill me, the lower number of mills, this one is already full," explained a logging truck driver in Lillooet about the impact of slow downs interviewed by North Star. "They [mill owners] can afford to shut down for six months, I can't..."
A driving factor behind the most recent mill shutdowns is the recent drop in the price of lumber. The Price of lumber fell from US$1,400 per thousand board feet in March 2022 to US$360 per thousand board feet in December. Instead of eating some of their profit during a low point in the Lumber market, forestry companies decided to shut down their mills, putting the hardship on the same workers who had just made them record profits for the last two years.
In January 2022, 900 Canfor workers unionized with Unifor and Public and Private Workers of Canada (PPWC) had just signed a new 4 year collective agreement with the company. Workers won salary increases of 11% over 4 years and a 5,000$ lump sum. For Unifor, this agreement would establish the new norms for working conditions in the B.C. forestry industry. Unifor and the PPWC alone represent 5 500 forestry workers in B.C. and Alberta.
Shut downs like that of Canfor's pulp mill in Prince George have ripple effects according to Unifor. Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor Western Regional Director says “This industry is so tightly connected and inter-dependent that we all feel every loss and worry for the future of the sector.” The shutdowns in Houston and Chetwynd were announced two weeks after the shutdown in Prince George.
Rural communities in B.C. are especially affected by these closures. The two mill shut downs in Houston and Chetwynd left 460 employees without jobs. Chetwynd was once name the forestry capital of the country by the Canadian forestry association. But now, with it's population of 2,300 people all affected by the closure, it's future is pretty cloudy according to its mayor Allen Courtoreille who worked in the mill for 41 years.