Friday, January 09, 2009

Charlottes forestry woes portend departures from the Islands

The economic crunch on the Queen Charlotte's continues to increase, as more job cuts get announced and residents make their plans to leave Haida Gwaii.

One of those that could possibly be soon to be departing is the recently elected Mayor of Port Clements Cory Delves, who received the bad news of pending unemployment from Western Forest Products.

Delves like many residents is now contemplating his future and with the state of the economy in the region, that may mean having to move and and in case relinquish his post as Mayor.

The Daily News outlined the troubled state of affairs in the forests of the Charlotte's and the impact on the communities with a front page story in Thursday's paper.

Job losses are likely to devastate village of Port Clements and may lead to an exodus
The Daily News
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Pages one and two

The hurting northern resource economy may be about to claim a political victim in the form of Port Clements Mayor Cory Delves.

Delves says he may have to resign from his mayor's seat because he is about to become unemployed.

Delves is a contract supervisor for Western Forest Products Inc. (WFP) but will soon join many families across Haida Gwaii on the unemployment line after the company announced it is curtailing its operations on the Islands.

''I'll have to move on because there isn't much chance there will be work for me here," said Delves from Port Clements Wednesday.

Delves said a by-election could be run this year as he considers what next step he and his family should take.

"Obviously, for younger workers it will 'plean moving on but for the older workers it could be far more devastating," said Delves.

The company has offered compensation packages to all of its management team on the Islands and has paid out contracted workers but the loss of employment will be keenly felt on the Islands.

Port Clements, a small village on Graham Island, has about 440 people living and working in the community. And according to Delves, about 50 households are dependent on WFP work, which has all but dried up.

Delves said that word on the street in Port Clements had not really begun to speak about WFP's decision because WFP slipped the notice in during the late afternoon but he expected word to make the rounds today.

"It's not just the workers who are employed by WFP that are going to be affected, but the whole community shops, we just built a new school - the whole area is going to be affected," said Delves.

Village of Queen Charlotte Mayor Carol Kulehsa said that three households are affected in her village but agreed with Delves that the economic hit will be much larger than just employees.

"We are a service community and it is also the stores and services and our friends that will suffer," said Kulesha.

A memo sent out by WFP's Vice President of Timberlands Trevor Boniface to all WFP workers announced the decision to slash work across coastal B.C., from Nanaimo to Port Clements.

Boniface reminded employees in the memo that they should take precautions and not take undue risks while still on the job.

"The one thing that we must not change is everyone's focus one returning home everyday injury free. It is absolutely imperative that we keep Our mind on the task, no matter what the circumstances," wrote Boniface.

North Coast MLA Gary Coons laid the blame at the feet of the provincial government, stating that nothing had been done to help workers.

"We must extend the Employment Insurance benefits for workers affected by the downturn and to ensure the WorkShare program meets the needs of forest-dependent communities," said Coons.

WFP has been under financial pressure throughout 200B, with a net loss of $25 million in its third quarter report alone. The main reason is U.S. housing starts have steeply declined since 2006, when it appeared the housing boom there might never stop.

In November 2006, housing starts were at 1.6 million for the month. Only two years later, it had dropped by 1 . million to 600,000 and forecasts are not expecting a significant rebound for 2009.

Former WFP President and CEO Reynold Hert resigned in November, just before the release of the company's third-quarter earnings, citing a change in direction was needed for the company. But in the brief released by the company about his resignation there was little mention of the amount of money the company was bleeding in 2008
For Delves, he'll just try to move forward.

"I was talking to a resident who is leaving (Port Clements) for a mining job pretty soon.

"It looks like he might have made the right call.'''

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