The B.C. government has moved to cut off debate on two major bills to remake B.C.’s forest industry, forcing them to a final vote as the fall session of the legislature ends this week.
The NDP used its majority to cut the detailed debate stage on both bills Nov. 23, after a delegation of forest industry representatives had gathered in the public gallery. Forests Minister Katrine Conroy was unable to speak to both bills as they were debated at the same time.
B.C. Liberal and B.C. Green MLAs objected to the cutoff of debate on a 160-page set of amendments that gives cabinet the authority to change or end timber licences, determine what compensation may be paid to forest companies, and redistribute Crown logging rights to community and Indigenous land title holders.
Amendments introduced in October are to create 10-year forest landscape plans to replace the current “results-based” harvest system, giving the province control over where roads are built. That bill also give the Chief Forester authority to set tree planting standards for harvest areas and after large wildfires.
Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson said the reduction of timber rights threatens six major forest employers in the Williams Lake area, as well as smaller value-added mills in the region and log home building.
“Some of the largest companies in my riding are partnerships between First Nations and those logging companies,” Doerkson said. “It will hurt our region, and certainly rural B.C., in a very big way.”
Surrey-White Rock MLA Trevor Halford warned of effects on Lower Mainland sawmills from the changes, which come on top of old-growth forest deferrals on Vancouver Island and across the B.C. Interior.
The B.C. Council of Forest Industries has estimated that up to 18,000 direct and indirect jobs are at risk. Halford read into the record statements from B.C. Business Council CEO Greg D’Avignon and Canfor CEO Don Kayne, among others, when the legislation was introduced.
“Today’s announcement is deeply concerning for the future health of the B.C. economy and will have direct and unintended consequences for communities across B.C., from Campbell River to Surrey, businesses big and small and thousands of forestry-related workers across the province,” D’Avignon said.
Kayne predicted that “If fully implemented, it would have significant impacts on our hard-working employees and their families, along with our Indigenous partners, contractors, communities and the entire industry.”
Premier John Horgan has been warning the big players in the B.C. forest industry since 2019 of the changes, moving ahead with a new plan after he said voluntary measures to share timber resources were not good enough.
Conroy has also moved ahead with a plan to defer logging on up to 26,000 square kilometres of old-growth forest identified in a review the industry has criticized for its influence by Sierra Club B.C. supporters. Deferrals are up to Indigenous land rights holders to finalize, as they develop their own harvest and preservation plans.
The move to push through the legislation with little debate came after a hotly contested remake of freedom of information law was also passed with little comment from government ministers.