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Neil Godbout: Canfor, province need to be held accountable for Prince George layoffs

Canfor brought in $211.5 million in earnings in the third quarter of 2022, $644.3 million in earnings the quarter before that and the $839.9 million in earnings during the first three months of last year.
Canfor's Intercontinental pulp mill in Prince George.

The finger pointing and “it’s not our fault” excuses from Canfor were as loud as a chainsaw from the outset of the company’s Wednesday announcement that it was axing its pulp line at its Prince George Pulp and Paper Mill, along with the 300 jobs that come with it.

It’s because of the closed sawmills in the Prince George area (Canfor’s choice), they said. It’s because of the reductions in the annual allowable cut (the B.C. government’s choice) and the difficulty getting “cost-competitive” fibre, they said.

The “cost-competitive” part means fibre at a price where Canfor can still make a substantial profit.

Like their $211.5 million in earnings in the third quarter of 2022, the $644.3 million in earnings the quarter before that and the $839.9 million in earnings during the first three months of last year.

As an industry analyst explained in a Glacier Media story last October about the crisis in the B.C. pulp sector, a lot of fibre gets left in the bush after logging because it’s cheaper to burn it than haul it out and take it to the nearest pulp mill.

In other words, we’ve arrived at this week because of the greed and incompetence of the big forest companies and the provincial government more interested in milking every cent out of the sector on a month-to-month basis to bolster their revenues than on the long-term management and protection of this invaluable resource.

But the Canfor employees losing their jobs, the other people who will lose their jobs as a result of Canfor’s actions, their families, their friends and Prince George residents don’t have to take this lying down.

Clearly, the relationship Canfor and the B.C. government have with Northern B.C. residents is a transactional one conducted through the dollars of wages and profits. Wages stay here and profits leave the community for the bank accounts of shareholders and Canfor’s majority shareholder is Jim Pattison.

That being the case, why should the out-of-work employees give their severance cheques back to Pattison by shopping at the four Save-On-Foods stores in Prince George? Why should they listen to the two Pattison radio stations and watch the Pattison TV station?

Seeing as Canfor is closing the Prince George pulp line to protect Pattison’s bottom line, it’s time for Prince George residents to show their dissatisfaction by protecting their own bottom line and hitting Pattison’s pocketbook.

And that’s just the start.

Premier David Eby and some of his cabinet ministers will be in Prince George next week for the Natural Resources Forum.

It’d be nice to see Canada Games Plaza filled with the affected employees and their friends and families, as well as a show of support from local residents for our neighbours, on Tuesday night, when Eby will be inside the Civic Centre giving the keynote dinner speech. Political and industry leaders need to hear directly from the members of this community how dissatisfied they are and how change and action is needed, both now and in the future.

The message is a simple one: the most valuable natural resource in Northern B.C. is not the trees, the oil and gas or the minerals, it’s the people who live, work and have made their homes here.

We’re long past telling them this core truth. Now’s the time to show them.