Shipping Logs and Jobs Away

You don’t have to listen to CBC radio for long to find something worth discussing. Last week it was log exports. It seems the NDP government is starting (very slowly) to follow through on an election promise to stop logging companies from shipping raw logs out of the province. It seems to be a no-brainer. The province is reducing the allowable timber cut to reflect present forest conditions and come closer to sustained-yield harvesting. Mills are closing because of lack of wood to mill. So we stop sending unmilled wood away to keep the jobs in B. C.

But for some reason, this isn’t happening. Why?

Life at the Top

The counter-argument goes thus; once a lumber company has harvested all the wood it is allowed, and once they have enough wood to keep their mills busy, it makes perfect sense to market the remainder wherever they can at the best price they can get.

And it does make sense. To the individual producer.

Business Considerations

Businesses are in the game to make money. That’s their sole purpose in existing. They aren’t there to protect the environment or to give people jobs. Their only objective is to produce dividends for their shareholders. The bottom line is…well, it’s their bottom line. Profits.

Quotes from business executives are unequivocal. Stop shipping logs overseas, and it will reduce the number of forest sector jobs in the province. How? …well, nobody is willing to say. Since there is absolutely no logical explanation for this, we can only see the statement for how it is meant: a threat. “Do what we say, or we will retaliate.”

Who ships logs? 

The big companies, of course, like Western Forest Products and Interfor. B.C.’s two biggest log exporters by far — TimberWest and Island Timberlands — do not operate a single mill between them. That’s right. They are solely exporters, competing with the mills of B. C. for logs. And winning. Thanks to the policies of the last “business-friendly” government, the big logging companies are making a fortune, while at the same time they are closing mills and putting people out of work.

Ideas from the Phone-in Audience

The usual tree-slashers and tree-huggers didn’t bring anything new to the table. Just their usual rants that will never reach a compromise.

The interesting person to listen to was the president of the B. C. Truck Logger’s Association. I was fascinated to see which side he was going to come down on. As I expected, his knee-jerk reaction was, “I’m in business, so I have to support the business side in any argument.”

No, buddy, you’re a small businessman, and the big companies who have scammed you into supporting them do not have your interests in mind. I don’t suppose it occurred to you that all of those logs your members trucked to the port would still have to be trucked to a sawmill? It seems to me that the truck loggers are the one group that can’t lose.

Statistics to Think About

  1. About 7% of B. C.’s wood goes overseas unprocessed. In an 18 billion dollar industry employing 60,000 people, that’s about a billion dollars and over 4,000 jobs.
  2. 97% of all raw logs shipped from Canada come from B. C. What does the rest of the country know that we don’t?
  3. In B. C. it takes 1,312 cubic metres of wood per year to create one full-time job. In Ontario, it only takes 292 cubic metres.

Where do the extra jobs in Ontario come from? Value-added manufacturing, of course. Doing something to the logs before we ship them, in case anyone missed Economics 101. Something that requires expertise. That provides jobs that make us more money. That’s “us” as the people and government of the province, not the multi-national companies that are ripping us off at the moment.

Main point:

As Canada has progressed economically, we have gradually diversified our “hewers of wood and drawers of water” economy. The two industries that have lagged behind are oil and forests. We’re still shipping our crude to refineries in other countries, and our logs to offshore mills. Why? Because somebody can get away with it. I wonder who?

How Do They Get Away With It?

It’s a clever trick, you have to admit. First, you get the government to let you export a lot of raw logs, starving the local mills of wood. Then you close the mills. Then you tell the government that there aren’t enough mills, so you have to export more raw logs. No, the tactic isn’t clever. What astounds me is their ability to persuade so many people to believe in their explanation.

The only log that leaves B. C. should be one with notches in the ends and a tag that reads something like, “#3 west wall, living room window sill,” on it.


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