Lost in the waves of publicity surrounding the ribbon-cutting on Canfor’s “super sawmill” in Houston was any real discussion of the social and environmental impacts of this mill or the proposed merger with Slocan.

Are these events good for British Columbia? for affected communities? for workers? for First Nations? or for the environment?

All of these questions have been largely unaddressed by the mainstream media who essentially have reprinted the company “bigger is better” press releases.

So what impacts will the merger – and the “super” mill – have?

All he have heard is how great the new, “highly efficient” (reputed to be the “world’s largest”) super mill will be. How it will reduce the company’s operating costs and allow them to process more wood for less “Cusing computer scanning and other technology.”

While efficiencies are desirable, these “rationalizations” are business-speak for mechanization and regional layoffs. Canfor is taking advantage of Canadian Tax policies that subsidize and encourage companies to replace workers with machinery. This, combined with the recent Liberal forestry changes that removed virtually all social obligations tied to tenure, bodes poorly for small town BC.

Analysts have been quoted saying that the Liberal’s “bigger is better” forestry scheme, “poses a threat to smaller mills in the province that may find it difficult to increasingly difficult to get raw logs for processing.”

If anything, that’s and understatement. The new “super mill” will result in the closure of smaller mill throughout the region and the transport of more and more wood to Houston. This may be great for workers in Houston, but I’d be worried if I lived elsewhere in the region.

In the future these “super mills” will be looked upon as Ghost Town creators, not as economic successes for communities in the region. Canfor President – and Gordon Campbell buddy – Dave Emerson, hinted at this when he said the new Houston mill would force smaller independent operators to “find a niche for themselves in order to survive.”

Lost in the debate is any historical context about tenure – the mechanism that locks in the “long-term access to timber.” Remember the quid pro qua for companies getting tenure for essentially free was their commitment to employ people and operate mills near their tenure.

With nary a public consultation process, those obligations disappeared last spring after a few hours debate in the Legislature. Oh how flimsy a long-standing “social contract” can be.

A number of unanswered questions exist:

  • If companies no longer have to fulfill there social obligation tied to tenure, why should we they retain exclusive rights to wood.
  • Why should companies relinquish only 20% of their tenure and not all of it?
  • Why shouldn’t companies have to purchase all their wood on the open market?
  • If BC is truly moving to “market-driven” pricing of public timber, why do we need to guarantee wood supply through tenure?

Clearly, a world of super mills, mega-mergers, a wood supply controlled by a few big companies is the vision the Liberal’s and their major donors have for the future of BC’s forest industry.

I don’t think it is a vision shared by the majority of British Columbians.