Calling yesterday’s announcement that Houston Forest Products will close next spring “a blow few people realistically expected,” MP Nathan Cullen today vowed to do all in his power to help the community adjust and move forward.
“The most important thing right now is to support the many hundreds of people whose jobs are being affected by these cuts,” Cullen said, in a press release. “Then we’ll come together as community to begin planning for a solid future in the long term.”
Cullen is speaking with community, company and union leaders in Houston, and will meet with key federal ministers in Ottawa to explore possible aid from senior government.
Late yesterday West Fraser announced it will close sawmill operations in Houston and Quesnel in the spring of 2014 because of timber shortages caused by mountain pine beetle infestations. The closures mean 225 direct mill jobs will be lost in Houston and 209 in Quesnel.
The move, part of what West Fraser terms its “mountain pine beetle plan,” also includes a forest tenure exchange that will see West Fraser acquire Canfor’s timber rights in Quesnel and Canfor take over West Fraser’s timber rights in Houston. West Fraser says this plan will help to finance major mill upgrades at its sawmills in Smithers and 100 Mile House.
Cullen said the West Fraser closures are further evidence of the need for modernized forest tenure reform in British Columbia. He noted the irony of the closures so soon after the provincial Liberals’ spring election promise to bring in stronger area-based tenure requirements.
Jobs Minister Shirley Bond says the province is working to determine what is needed in the community in the coming weeks.
“I have been in touch with the mayors of both communities, and our senior ministry staff are in regular communication with their senior staff. I am also working closely with MLA Coralee Oakes and MLA John Rustad, who are
providing on-the-ground leadership for their communities,” Bond said in a statement issued Friday. “Next week, my ministry will send its Community Adjustment Team to both Quesnel and Houston. This team will help affected employees with
employment support services such as job fairs, job matching, skills training and career counselling so they can continue their careers with minimal disruption. The team will also work with all government ministries to make sure workers’ families are supported during this difficult period.”
She said the province will enact a plan similar to what happened in Burns Lake when a mill there was destroyed by fire. Ironically, that plan involved taking timber from surround Timber Supply Areas, including Houston, to provide enough fibre for the Burns Lake mill to re-0pen.
The NDP is hammering the Liberals over the closures, saying the government has not done enough to deal with the mid-term timber supply issues in the Central Interior.
“The Liberals were aware that conditions were ripe for further mill closures, like we’re seeing in Quesnel and Houston,” said New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix. “Their own ministry has been talking about declining availability of timber for years, as the pine beetle epidemic raged on.
“And they know that these communities will not be the only ones to suffer from this kind of economic devastation. But this government still has not put into place concrete measures to help forestry communities transition through the mid-term timber supply shortage.”