Canfor's takeover of Slocan–The Impacts (Part 2)

Canfor’s plans to build four “super mills” in the north, fueled by wood from its merger with Slocan, will negatively impact on First Nations, communities and workers.

The numbers speak for themselves. In Houston, BC, Canfor apparently plans to increase capacity by 33% from 450,000,000 board feet a year to 600,000,000.

However, mostly unreported (except in the local press) is the fact that, despite the expanded production, because of technology upgrades, Canfor’s workforce will be reduced by 45 workers.

45 less workers yet 33% higher production. Some may call this progress, but probably not the workers and communities affected. Instead, this is the harsh reality behind corporate-speak euphemisms like “rationalizations” and “efficiencies” and “super-mills.”

Other than the paltry subsidized stumpage paid into general revenue, what does the public get for access to public lands and resources? It used to be jobs. What now?

While job losses are devastating, they should not be surprising.

Canfor was the first logging company to successfully close an appurtenant mill, but it was able to keep all the wood under the related tenure. (“Appurtenancy” was the rule, now scrapped by the Liberal government, requiring companies to run mills within or near all their major logging licences. It was the only thing the BC government got in exchange for the huge tenures granted decades ago.)

When Canfor closed the Eburne mill in Vancouver back in 1999, they were able to reduce costs by laying off all the Eburne mill workers. Yet the NDP government allowed Canfor to keep all the timber appurtenant to that mill–on TFL 37 on northern Vancouver Island–in contravention of their licence.

The laid-off Eburne workers banded together to form the Woodworkers for Fair Forest Policy (WFFP). While at Sierra Legal Defence Fund, I helped the WFFP initiate a lawsuit challenging this decision by government.

As early as four years ago, Dave Emerson, Canfor’s CEO, indicated that once the Liberal government was in power, he expected to “reduce his labour costs.”

In a number of meetings with environmental activists, Emerson hinted that, despite the rhetoric, the much-maligned Forest Practices Code was not the real problem. Instead, he indicated that labour costs were the industry’s biggest problem and he expected the next government to help him address this.

Well, he was right. The Liberal government certainly has helped him (and other logging company CEOs) reduce their labour costs–not surprisingly, since Canfor is one of the Liberals largest corporate donors.

And as a key adviser to Premier Campbell, Emerson helped design the Liberals’ pro-corporate, anti-environmental forestry scheme.

But what does the public get in return for the increased corporate hegemony over our forests?

That is not clear. But that is the question we should be asking.

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