Northern B.C. lost, in one afternoon, 434 full-time mill jobs. Many more indirect jobs will also be lost or hurt.
The job losses are spread between Quesnel where Canfor is closing its saw operation affecting 209 workers, and Houston where West Fraser is closing its saw operation affecting 225 workers.
The two companies made the announcement together, Thursday afternoon, and also explained how they had traded massive amounts of timber harvesting rights in order to keep their other local operations viable.
Canfor's flagship mill in Houston will not only be spared, it will thrive. West Fraser's large mill in Houston will not only be spared, it too will thrive, according to top company officials. Canfor is trading the rights to cut 435,821 cubic metres of timber in the Quesnel and Lakes Timber Supply Areas while West Fraser swapped them 324,500 cubic metres in the Morice TSA. The swap of trees means both companies will now have ample fiber near their surviving mills.
The reason for the closures and timber trades were, both companies agreed, a direct result of the mountain pine beetle devastation. There just wasn't enough good wood left for all four mills to operate, so each picked their best one and set it up for success, each picked one to shut down.
"Quesnel is the last mountain pine beetle-related closure Canfor will have to take," said Canfor CEO Don Kayne. "Our fibre supply for our other facilities is strong and Canfor will continue to be a leading solid wood manufacturer in British Columbia."
West Fraser boss Ted Seraphim said the Canfor deal will also stabilize the company's operations elsewhere in this region. It will allow for the rebuild of sawmills in 100 Mile House and Smithers to go along with the recent rebuild of its Chetwynd sawmill and modernization of its Williams Lake planer mill. Two proposed bioenergy plants will also have their bottom line improved.
The mountain pine beetle devastation has and will continue to undermine the availability of merchantable timber in the interior of B.C.," Seraphim said. "The shutdown of our Houston mill has been a difficult decision and we will work closely with the affected employees to support them through this process. Our first priority is to explore opportunities to transition Houston employees to one of our other operations and we will provide assistance in finding new employment.
Kayne echoed the labour commitment.
"I have committed that every member of the Quesnel team that wishes to remain with our company will receive a job offer at another Canfor facility," he said. "For those that choose to remain in Quesnel, Canfor will work with our regional competitors and other employers to find positions for as many of our employees as possible. Labor demand in the forest sector is high, and we are confident that we will able to place our employees quickly."
United Steelworkers Union local president Frank Everitt was not comforted by the offer of potential job shifting.
"They are simply making decisions based on timber supply and when they make those decisions, members get laid off and they are out of work," said Everitt. "We knew there would be some curtailments down the road - certainly we weren't anticipating shutting down so soon. We did know they were scrambling for fiber supply especially in the Quesnel area."
The closures will take place in the first half of 2014: Canfor's closure in March and West Fraser's closure sometime in the second quarter.