Work here that relied on reports from BC Stats helped Torrance create his article and that’s fair because part of my writing was inspired by an Op-Ed he co-wrote, published in the Times Colonist before Christmas.
This subject deserves attention. You can start by scrolling through earlier Northern Insight articles about log exports.
The forest industry is a vital part of British Columbia’s foundations. Until the 21st century, provincial governments recognized its importance. It was not just the loggers of Goat Lake, the sawyers of Tatloyoka, coastal tug deckhands or tens of thousands of others directly working in forestry. It was also the people employed indirectly – machine fabricators, sawmakers, cable and chain manufacturers, log and lumber traders, railroaders, truckers, mechanics, welders, researchers, administrators, etc. – that gave our province a wealthy middle class.
Globalization changed the economy we once knew. Financial Times columnist Edward Luce wrote,
The middle-skilled jobs that once formed the ballast of the world’s wealthiest middle class are disappearing. They are being supplanted by relatively low-skilled (and low-paid) jobs that cannot be replaced either by new technology or by offshoring – such as home nursing and landscape gardening. Jobs are also being created for the highly skilled, notably in science, engineering and management.
Had Luce’s eyes been focused on British Columbia he would have added logging to the category of jobs that cannot be moved offshore. However, this thriving segment of industry delivers much of its raw product to tidewater for export. We can easily understand the reasons:
- Sawmills and manufacturing facilities require significant investments in property, plant and people. The shortest route to immediate profit is export of raw logs. It’s what I call “the tyranny of quarterly reports.” Managers are concerned with immediate results rather than creation of a strong business that will prosper over time.
- Various factors mean that mills have high fixed costs while logging has low fixed costs. Investors can ramp up a large logging operation for a few million dollars and do it within a year. Mill owners need permanent, serviced land and tens of millions of dollars. The time for plans, permits and construction will be years. As a result, the easy road for timber rights holders is log exports.
- Highly automated mills are capital intensive. The BC industry has underinvested and is less efficient than it could be. This condition then “justifies” exports. Industry claims that BC cannot compete in manufacturing finished lumber products so the only choice is to ship logs elsewhere.
Today’s government believes that serving the multinational corporate agenda is Job One. There is no political vision for the future, no desire for British Columbians to be more than hewers of wood and drawers of water. If it were different, government would decide to promote value-added efforts. However, that would displease influential people who profit from the present system. Again, the easy road is to export unprocessed resources.
The tough choice, although the right one for the long term, would be to ensure substantially more value-added activity in BC. Liberals are particularly devoid of vision because their only real expertise is selling. Like prostitutes and drug dealers, they aim for quick scores. Their disregard for wood industries and their thoughtless embrace of LNG fantasies prove this true.