Wilkinson levels criticism against NDP over struggling sawmills

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson is accusing the NDP government of inaction in the face of an ongoing decline in the forest sector.

In a telephone interview Monday, Wilkinson emphasized economic issues when asked for the top three matters the party is pursuing on behalf of voters in north-central B.C.

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He said government revenues from the resource sector - stumpage fees from timber harvesting and royalties from oil and gas and mining - are on course to drop 30 per cent, "and they don't plan to do anything about it."

Concurrent with that, Wilkinson made note of the slowdown in the forest industry as sawmills invoke production curtailments in the face of softening lumber prices, timber supply constraints and the tariffs the United States has imposed on Canadian softwood lumber.

While the provincial government can do little to stem a slowing of the U.S. housing market and a consequent drop in the price of lumber, Wilkinson said there are still levers it can control, notably the mid-term timber supply.

"We've got to find out the right way to sort out the medium-term timber supply," Wilkinson said. "The industry needs some reliability, and all of the people working in the industry and all of the families across northern B.C. are entitled to know the prospects for the next three to five years in the forest industry.

"The NDP can do that and they haven't done it."

Canfor, Conifex and West Fraser have all cited log supply and log costs as reasons for curtailments.

"If the forest industry is facing a triple-whammy of the American duties, uncertainty of timber supply and low prices, this is bad news for northern B.C. and we're saying to the NDP, it's time for them to come to the table, it's time for the NDP government to look out for the interests of British Columbians," Wilkinson said.

Industry experts have said the drop in available timber has been a function of most of the beetle-killed pine having been harvested and the massive wildfires over the last two summers and there is not much the provincial government can do.

Wilkinson also took Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development Doug Donaldson to task for showing up in January at a blockade opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline put up south of Houston. Wilkinson said it was a sign that the NDP has taken sides in a dispute between the Wet'suwet'en First Nation's elected band leaders and hereditary chiefs on a matter that is best left to the courts.

"And now there is a lot of uncertainty about whether they (businesspeople) are to deal with elected band councils or hereditary chiefs or both and the NDP are being very unclear on that, which is a big problem for investment in northern B.C.," Wilkinson said.

He said the NDP needs to boost consumer confidence in the economy by reducing taxes

"You can't tax your way to prosperity and that's what the NDP are trying to do," he said.

Donaldson could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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