Incumbent Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen was recently in Burns Lake making a pledge to support Northern B.C.’s forestry sector if re-elected.
Cullen, who is also the NDP Finance Critic, has held the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding since 2004.
On Sept. 28, 2015, the candidate toured a local mill and met with mill workers and management to discuss the NDP’s plan to fight for B.C.’s forestry sector.
Cullen said he believes the future for the industry lies in value-added products rather than raw materials.
“We want to start to reduce the number of raw log exports and increase the number of jobs we have in mills across British Columbia and Canada,” Cullen said. “It seems like the province and the federal government have become more addicted to raw exports.”
Cullen said that raw-material exports mean the lowest value for our exports.
“It’s actually not exclusive just to the forestry industry, we’re seeing that now with raw bitumen pipelines, mining and fish,” Cullen said. “Just about every natural resource we have is increasingly exported raw and along with it goes the jobs.”
“That’s a rip-and-ship mentality that leaves a lot of communities and families without work.”
According to their press release, the NDP has pledged $55 million in forest product manufacturing, $40 million in research and development and $10 million in marketing for the forestry industry.
“What we offer up to both large and small operations is an innovation fund,” Cullen said. “So for those people who have ideas about how to add more value to the wood that we get from our forest, also help businesses that exist promote their products overseas with our international partners.”
In addition, Cullen said the NDP plans to cut taxes for small businesses from 11 to nine per cent over two years to help smaller forestry businesses and support value-added manufacturing from private woodlots to equipment supply firms.
Cullen repeatedly criticized the Conservative party for their track record in the forestry industry.
“We’ve lost tens of thousands of jobs in that industry, we’ve seen a number of mills like the one in Houston close, and we haven’t seen enough action from government, frankly,” he said. “The results speak for themselves. We’ve lost about 450,000 value-added jobs in Canada since Harper became prime minister.”
Conservative candidate Tyler Nesbitt, however, defended the Conservative’s track record.
“We’ve cut taxes for every single person across this country,” Nesbitt said. “And we’re reducing the small business tax rate.”
“It’s interesting he [Cullen] still cites the outcomes and the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis when it suits his argument, but he won’t cite those things when it doesn’t.”
Nesbitt said the Conservative party supports value-added products, pointing to the $43-million investment for the forestry industry to adopt new technology and develop new products, a $100-million research and development fund and a capital investment allowance.
He also points to the funds derived from the economic action plan.
“Year after year, in every single budget, there’s has been billions of dollars invested in protecting that industry,” Nesbitt said. “Of special interest here is that there’s been a great deal of money spent on helping preserve those industries and those single-industry towns.”
Nesbitt said he would push for greater marketing of Canada’s lumber worldwide, alongside developing new free trade agreements.
The B.C. Council of Forest Industries remains impartial when it comes to the federal election.
“We’re hopeful that whatever party forms the next government, they will recognize the continuing importance of the forest industry to Canada, and particularly to B.C. and Northern B.C.,” said Cam McAlpine, Spokesperson for the Council of Forest Industries.
McAlpine said the forest sector needs to remain competitive to deal with fluctuating market conditions.
“In order to remain competitive, we need security of fibre and operating certainty on the land base, competitive cost structures, to foster investment in the B.C. industry and economic development in our communities, and continued focus on policies to support free and open market access.”
When asked about the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement, expected to expire on Oct. 12, 2015, McAlpine explained that there is a provision in the softwood lumber agreement by which both parties – Canada and United States – agree to a standstill period after the expiration date. This provision means no action can be taken by either country in the way of trade sanctions for 12 months.
“We’re hopeful that over the next year we can reach an agreement with the U.S. on a trade relationship that’s acceptable to both countries,” said McAlpine.