Spirited March and Rally in Mackenzie, BC

Workers and Community Stand Up for Jobs and a New Direction in Forestry

A thousand people marched and held a spirited rally in Mackenzie, British Columbia, concerned about the future of their community in the wake of the downturn in the Interior forest industry. Mackenzie, a town of about 3,300 people 180 km north of Prince George, has been hit especially hard in the last few months with Canfor closing its sawmill, citing high costs and adverse market conditions, and with production being curtailed at the Conifex sawmill and Parallel 55 fingerjoint mill.

All told, about 400 jobs have been affected by these closures, which amounts to about 20 per cent of the local workforce. In addition, there are fears that the Mackenzie pulp mill could close because of lack of access to residual fibre from the other mills.

The rally was organized by the MackenzieMatters Committee with support from the Public and Private Workers of Canada (PPWC), Unifor and United Steelworkers (USW) unions, local businesses and other volunteers. Participants carried signs through town stating: Our logs, our jobs! Save our jobs! United we stand! Keep our logs in Mackenzie! Our voices need to be heard! and others.

The rally comes at a time when there have been many mill closures and curtailments across the province in forestry-based communities. Companies have blamed these shutdowns in large part on a dwindling fibre supply as a result of the massive pine beetle epidemic and recent catastrophic forest fires.

However, Mackenzie mayor Joan Atkinson explained that there is not a fibre supply problem in the Mackenzie region, yet forest companies are shipping logs out to other parts of the province while mills in the town sit idle. She argued that forest policy has to change in the province, that it is "time for all of us to work collaboratively and identify what is not working and what is needed to fix it," and that the people of Mackenzie were ready to stick together and meet the challenges head on.

Kim Guthrie, a local realtor and chair of the MackenzieMatters Committee, said: "We would like our logs to stop leaving the community. We would like our sawmills to be able to run and the bottom line is we'd like them to change the legislation so logs have to stay in the community and be milled here."

Chris Dixon, who chaired the rally, began by stating, "We are here to let government know that forest practices must change. The big corporations and the government of British Columbia have to wake up and realize that small hardworking communities matter, that Mackenzie matters."

Speakers at the rally included representatives from local, provincial and federal governments in the region; local businesses; unions, including PPWC, Unifor, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and USW; and community organizations, including Stand Up for the North Committee and North Matters.

Common themes that emerged in the presentations and from participants in the rally included criticism of forest practices in the province and the need for a new direction in forestry, criticism of runaway companies, the need for more processing and getting more value out of the wood, utilizing wood waste, economic diversification, transition support and retraining services, economic development funding, concerns about the mountain caribou program, and settlement of the Softwood Lumber dispute with the U.S.

One overarching theme, palpable in the march, rally and discussions among participants, was a call for more empowerment of rural regions: to listen to the voices and expertise of forestry workers and community members; and to develop policies based on the needs of workers and communities rather than big corporations and top government officials.

The government spokespersons and politicians representing parties that form a cartel party system designed to keep people out of power delivered their pro-forma messages which either promise pie in the sky and/or blame others. These messages have nothing to do with involving the workers and community in finding concrete solutions to the problems they face. In his presentation, BC Forests Minister Doug Donaldson talked about how the BC government was engaged in a consultation process across the province to develop a new vision for forestry. This is a denial that the crisis in forestry is longstanding and the only "new vision" forthcoming has been the one that exports raw logs and serves the narrow interests of the oligopolies which manipulate state policy. In addition, the Minister said, the government is working to make sure that the Conifex mill opens in September which would alleviate some of the unemployment problem as well as make residual fibre available for other mills. What this means remains to be seen.

He also made sure to point out that the current NDP government was "cleaning up a mess" from the previous Liberal government "that wouldn't exist if action would have been taken ten or even five years ago, to diversify and get more value from the trees that are harvested." Such attempts to divide the people behind one or another political party stops the problems being put on the table for solution.

For their part, the Liberal MLAs who spoke, which included Mike Morris, John Rustad and Donna Barnett, criticized what they characterized as a slow response to the forestry crisis by the Forests Minister and the need for action not more talk. They pledged to keep "biting at the Forests Minister's ankles" to make sure that worker and community support gets carried out. In other words, the people should depend on condescending saviours and remain at their mercy.

In closing, MackenzieMatters' Kim Guthrie, thanked all the speakers and participants in the rally and called for a longterm forestry plan to be developed for community success and sustainability. The people of Mackenzie are proud and determined, she said, and will definitely not be going away.

(With files from TMLW Correspondent, Prince George Citizen, PG Daily News, My PG Now, CBC News. Photos:PPWC)

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 25 - August 31, 2019

Article Link:
Spirited March and Rally in Mackenzie, BC: Workers and Community Stand Up for Jobs and a New Direction in Forestry


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