NDP leader John Horgan has started his election campaign on the state of B.C.'s forest industry, hinting that Premier Christy Clark should replace her trade minister and "retool" for a lumber battle with incoming U.S. President Donald Trump.
At a campaign-style event in Vancouver Tuesday, Horgan also took aim at B.C.'s biggest forest companies for buying sawmills in the United States as B.C. mills shut down.
"When I look at what some of the major forest companies in British Columbia have been doing in the last number of years, they haven't been reinvesting their profits in British Columbia, they've been buying U.S. assets," Horgan said. "Canfor, Interfor, West Fraser have been purchasing U.S. interests rather than reinvesting here in British Columbia."
Clark and Forests Minister Steve Thomson also heard from coastal industry representatives, as the annual Truck Loggers Association opened in Vancouver Wednesday.
"Recent industry polling tells us that two in three Coastal British Columbians feel government should be doing more to support the forest industry," said David Elstone, TLA executive director.
Jobs Minister Shirley Bond acknowledged that forest and other resource communities have lost jobs in B.C., while the urban southwest enjoys an employment boom. She said the softwood lumber agreement was among the first issues raised by Clark when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, and Thomson and new federal Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland are in regular contact.
"To suggest otherwise is simply wrong, and it's a little late for the leader of the opposition to be talking about expanding our market share," Bond said. "Our marketing efforts in China have seen a 2,000 per cent increase in B.C. softwood lumber exports from 2003 to 2014. And suddenly, the leader of the opposition is going to come up with a marketing strategy?"
Horgan appeared with Steelworkers' Union Local 2009 president Manjit Sidhu, who said he has seen steady decline since he started working at Hammond Cedar in Maple Ridge in 1973. The world's largest cedar mill, owned by Interfor, is down to a single shift because of a lack of logs, he said.
"The Steelworkers have John Horgan's back, because John Horgan has the Steelworkers' and the B.C. forest industry's back," Sidhu said.
Canada's lumber trade with the U.S. has been in dispute off and on since 1982, with a combination import cap and border tax imposed by the U.S. that expired last year.
B.C.'s lumber sales to China have declined since a 2014 peak, when they briefly exceeded U.S. exports. China has increasingly turned to Russian lumber since the ruble was devalued in 2015.