Kootenay jobs at risk as minister signs secret export deal

A secret 10-year deal signed by forest minister Steve Thomson could have significant implications on B.C.’s pulp mills says Conroy.

A secret 10-year deal signed by forest minister Steve Thomson could have significant implications on B.C.’s pulp mills, including Celgar, says New Democrat MLA Katrine Conroy.

“We know that mills are having to pay more to get fibre, and we know that as the timber supply problem gets worse, it’s only going to get harder for mills to get chips,” said Conroy, the MLA for Kootenay-West. “Yet the minister signed a sweetheart deal just before the election that locks a significant amount of wood chips in for export for 10 years.

“This puts jobs in B.C. – including here in the Kootenays – at risk.”

On Jan. 30, without fanfare or even a press release, Thomson signed an Order in Council granting a 10-year export permit for 300,000 bone-dry units (slightly more than 300,000 tonnes) of wood chips. It wasn’t until mid-March that the Chip Export Advisory Committee consumers’ sub-committee learned of the order, which was handled outside of normal procedures.

The order also appears to violate the Forest Act, which says that chips can only be exported if they’re surplus to B.C.’s needs. Pulp mills and bio-energy companies are regularly in the market for fibre.

Conroy and New Democrat forest critic Norm Macdonald raised the issue in the legislature Thursday. Thomson made the outrageous assertion that chip consumers had been given the chance to sign off on the deal.

Merl Fichtner, chair of the sub-committee, said in an April 19 letter to Thomson that the length of the deal was the biggest area of concern. He said with a looming timber shortage, it’s “impossible to determine today that a volume of chips will be surplus to the requirements of facilities in British Columbia over the next 10 years.”

“This is a terrible deal for B.C. workers,” said Conroy. “Public resources like our forests should be there to create jobs for British Columbians, but the Liberals are content to give them away.”

“It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure we get the most value possible out of our resources,” added Macdonald, “but the Liberals are content to ship B.C. jobs offshore. I’m guessing the minister wanted to keep this deal secret because it’s embarrassing just how bad a deal this is for British Columbia.”