Saturday, September 06, 2008

As long as there are trees in the forest, we will be talking about the forestry

"There are no jobs and a way of life has disappeared" —CEP President and documentary maker Dave Coles, outlining some of his thoughts on the state of the troubled forest industry and its impact on Prince Rupert.

Forest issues jumped out of hibernation on Thursday, as twin events in the city highlighted the troubled nature of the B. C. forest industry.

Thursday’s Daily News featured two stories on the issue that once dominated the debate in the city but has since faded from view. While the rust and mothballs accumulate at the old Skeena Cel site, awaiting their final deliberation from the Chinese owners of the long since shut down pulp mill, a once dominant industry in the region has become but a whisper.

Thursday’s paper provided details on a visit from Forests and Range Minister Pat Bell, who was in town to discuss forestry issues with local staffers for the Ministry of Forests as well as with local politicians and First Nations leaders.
Bell is making the rounds of the province to hold talks with stakeholders in the forest industry. A tour that hasn't impessed local MLA Gary Coons very much, who greeted Mr. Bell at the Forest district office and wondered why he didn't have a comprehensive plan to revitalize the industry.

At the same time as the Bell visit, Dave Coles, the President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers was in town, collecting video for an upcoming documentary on the once thriving industry that has all but disappeared from rural BC.
Coles himself pointed to the some 20,000 members that his union has lost in recent years as the jobs in forest related industries came to an end.

He was last heard nationally last year during the Protests of Montebello, where he documented the undercover operations of the Surete du Quebec as protestors took to the streets in the Quebec village.

His current project is working under the title of Take back our Forests, a snippet which is posted to the CEP website.

Documentary to inspire political action
CEP not happy with how forestry industry is behind handled
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Pages on and three

The nation-wide difficulties facing the forestry industry is being shot in a documentary movie to encourage more political action.

Dave Coles is national president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union of Canada and he is leading a team of three around Canada documenting the troubles each forestry community is facing.

“We’ve lost just in our union alone 20,000 members,” said Coles, who was filming outside the North Coast Forest District the same day B. C. Forestry and Range Minister Pat Bell was to arrive to talk to district representatives (see related story, sidebar).

The purpose of the video is to educate CEP members and to raise public awareness of what he called “the devastation.”

Coles said the reason he brought the crew to Prince Rupert was because of the former status as a pulp and paper town.

“The only thing Rupert is known today for is shipping logs to China,” said Coles.

He is afraid that all levels of government are unable to deal with the lack of jobs coming from forestry.

Coles said he was speaking to local politicians about what was going on with the forest and was given no answer.
“They don’t know. They are disassociated to their history,” he said.

Coles believes that the government should be more like Scandinavian countries that play big roles in how the industry functions.

The CEP film crew are stopping 12 times across the country, and have already stopped in Kamloops and Mackenzie here in B. C.

Coles added that Prince Rupert is not unlike those towns.

“Rupert is another example of a community in the middle of a forest that gets no benefit from it anymore. There are no jobs and a way of life has disappeared,” he said.

Future of forestry dependent on port
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Pages one and five

B. C. minister of Forests Pat Bell visited Prince Rupert on Wednesday to promote his four key-priorities that he has established since taking on the portfolio in late June.

Though no announcements were made directly about increasing job opportunities along the Northwest, Bell did note that no priority stands out more for locals then increasing exports through Prince Rupert.

“What better place than Prince Rupert to talk about (China),” said Bell outside the North Coast Forest District offices on Market Rd.

Bell is on a tour around the northern region and said he sees the Port of Prince Rupert as a vital link to creating more trade with Beijing.

“The opportunity for us to ship our forestry products to China is far cheaper then to ship them to the eastern seaboard in the US. The port here we have to maximize how we move our product into the Chinese market place and build a trading relationship with them that will endure a longer period of time,” he said.

MLA Gary Coons, who met Bell outside the district office, said he was unimpressed by the minister’s visit. He said this was a missed opportunity for the minister to reveal his plans to help a struggling industry.

“Interesting the minister would come to the region with no real plan or strategy to revitalize our forest industry,” criticized Coons.

“After 46 mills shut down since 2001, over 20,000 jobs lost, communities on the brink and families stretched to their limit that the minister responsible would have some actions to address the issue.”

Coons pointed to a quote from B. C. Premier Gordon Campbell from 2000 when he told the CBC that he didn’t want to “export logs and jobs along the way.”

Bell did not disagree that the industry was not doing well.

“It’s a sign of sick industry – of an industry that is not competitive internationally,” said Bell. “The way to fix that is by having the right policy structure in place to encourage mills developing, such as pulp mills, pallet mills or saw mills.

The tour was also an effort by Bell to familiarize himself with the region’s forest sector issues. Bell was holding talks with local stakeholders on where the region’s forest sector needs to go and how it should be implemented by the ministry.

“As the new minister of forests I think it’s important to get out to different communities and really understand the forest sectors,” said Bell.

“Each area has its own unique aspects, challenges and opportunities.

“And I think when you get on the ground and see those it makes you a better decision maker when you are asked to sign off on different policy proposals.”

Bell had a one-hour meeting with the city of Prince Rupert and was then to meet with local First Nations representatives and Forest District representatives afterwards.

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