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HomeNewsUnion president shocked and furious with latest Canfor mill shutdowns

Union president shocked and furious with latest Canfor mill shutdowns

“They use our members like pawns in a game. It is unfathomable how they are maintaining doing this.”

Brian O’Rourke, the United Steelworkers 1-2017 Branch President, did not mince words when speaking about the newest wave of Canfor curtailments and shutdowns.

On Thursday (May 9), Canfor announced it would be curtailing one pulp line at their Prince George Northwood facility, permanently closing the curtailed Polar sawmill in Bear Lake, and suspending planned upgrades at the dormant sawmill in Houston.

Combined, the announcements impacted 400 workers.

O’Rourke’s union serves the employees of both sawmills.

“For the folks that work out in Polar and have been curtailed since January and now receive this news, I find that quite shocking,” he said. “They said they would build a new Houston mill after being curtailed since April of last year. To put that on long finger is, in my opinion, unacceptable.”

He is not optimistic that the Houston mill project will ever be put back on the table – and if it is, “it is going to be far enough out in the distance that I would be surprised if any of the folks are still around there.”

According to O’Rourke, each laid off union member is entitled to 10 day’s pay for each year of service in compensation. Beyond that, he has not yet been given details on what other supports from Canfor his members will receive.

His biggest frustration with the shutdowns is that, despite closing these regional sawmills, Canfor is still logging.

“It is so frustrating that corporations, after they shut down, they keep logging,” he said. “Our NDP government should be ashamed of themselves for letting these corporations shutter these mills, put hundreds if not thousands out of work, and keep their logging supply, keep cutting timber, and keep making a profit. It is utterly disgraceful.”

“They (Canfor) keep citing not enough fibre and the government policy and all these things,” O’Rourke continued. “They maintain their logging rights and are logging heavily in those areas, then selling those logs. How could they not bring them down to Polar? These logs are literally coming down, being placed in the log yard at Polar, and being sorted and shipped and sold to other operations.”

He said even though Houston’s mill shut down over a year ago, they have not stopped logging in that region.

“When we talk about not enough viable timber, could the logs have been moved from Houston to Polar to keep them viable if Houston was not good enough? We say yes,” he said. “Their intention is to keep logging, keep selling, keep making a profit while all our members are out looking for work.”

The following is a part of the statement Don Kayne, Canfor’s President and CEO gave with this week’s announcements:

“The ability to reliably access enough economic timber to run our manufacturing facilities is critical for our business. Unfortunately, while our province has a sufficient supply of timber available for harvest as confirmed by the Allowable Annual Cut set by BC’s Chief Forester, the actual harvest level has declined dramatically in recent years. In 2023 the actual harvest was 42 percent lower than the allowable cut, a level not seen since the 1960s.

While this decline is partly the result of natural disturbances – beetle infestations and wildfire particularly – it is also the result of the cumulative impact of policy changes and increased regulatory complexity. These choices and changes have hampered our ability to consistently access enough economic fibre to support our manufacturing facilities and forced the closure or curtailment of many forest sector operations, including our Polar sawmill.”

You can find his full statement here.

“When those mills shut down, that timber supply should be withheld from those companies,” O’Rourke said – pointing to West Fraser’s Fraser Lake sawmill, which he said will be shutting down soon while West Fraser continues to log.

“My firm belief is those logs do not belong to them, they belong to the province. The government should take that cut back, sit and talk with first nations and others that are interested in running mills and employing residents of British Columbia,” he said.

“Canfor points their finger at the government, the government points their finger back. Somebody needs to make these good, hard decisions that need to be made,” O’Rourke said in closing.

Vista Radio spoke with Kevin Edgson, the President and CEO of Canfor Pulp, about the pulp line curtailment yesterday. You can find that story here.

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