Reaction to the announcement that Hampton Affiliates will proceed with its rebuild of the Babine Forest Products mill was not all positive, according to some media coverage.
Politicians outside of the provincial Liberal government were quick to question whether or not there was enough timber to support the new mill. Bob Simpson, MLA for Cariboo North, even claimed that the province had inflated its Quesnel timber supply numbers for the sake of creating a positive environment for the Burns Lake mill decision.
The mayor of Smithers went on the CBC to question whether the mill decision would mean less timber supply for other mills in the region, as if the Lakes timber supply should simply remain open for mills everywhere but in Burns Lake.
One national news source chose to run photos of injured workers with its same day coverage of the announcement, and two other news sources, national and provincial, chose to run stories emphasizing the hurt caused by the mill explosion. One even suggested that workers didn’t want to return to a new mill. I received a phone call from a family member in another part of the province who expressed surprise that the mill rebuild “wasn’t really a good thing for Burns Lake”. That’s the picture painted by the media outside the Lakes District.
Why has there been so much effort by the media to turn this announcement into something negative?
From the day the mill rebuild was tentatively announced back in September the major mills in B.C. have been silent. Are they speaking loudly through politicians and media in their own spheres of influence because they don’t want to be seen as protecting their profit from the destruction of a competitor’s mill in Burns Lake?
The provincial Liberals have never shifted from their stated position that, if possible, the mill should be rebuilt. They have proposed changes to timber supply management and have banked on the idea that low-volume timber stands will be financially viable in the years to come. Those changes will extend to other timber supply areas across B.C.
Will local politicians protest when their communities are offered new or extended community forest licenses to manage according to the interests of their own communities?
The Burns Lake decision is at the centre of a political storm as politicians ramp up for a spring election. You can be sure that this decision for Burns Lake will hang like a heavy punching bag in the corner of boxing gym just waiting for anyone to take swings at it for the sake of scoring political points.
It is a decision for Burns Lake, made by the Liberals, Hampton Affiliates, the Village of Burns Lake, the Regional District and First Nations to support a local mill. Will all the timber in the Lakes now go to Hampton? Of course not; it never has. Hampton will still have to compete with other mills just as before. Local license holders have never been bound to sell to Hampton, and they won’t be bound to do so in the future.
The Babine Mill rebuild is a carefully thought out plan that will be good for Burns Lake, and good for forestry workers across the region with competitive mills buying logs on an open market.