‘A real shame’: Okanagan MLA says factors behind Tolko mill closing should have been caught

Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson said the industry is in bad shape across the province

There were many reasons why Kelowna’s Tolko mill closed its doors earlier this week.

Poor market conditions were tagged as the biggest factor, but for local MLA Steve Thomson the factors should have been caught earlier. From recognizing patterns throughout the forest industry in the province to the rising costs of the market, Thomson said the fault lies with the province’s leadership.

“It’s a real shame that the current NDP government has been really missing in action in terms of response to this news,” said Thomson. “There are things they could have done and they haven’t taken any steps to fixing this crisis.”

READ MORE: Kelowna Tolko mill shut down for ‘indeterminate’ amount of time

Thomson, the former forest minister up until 2017, pointed out the patterns in the industry throughout the province; mills in Quesnel and Maple Ridge were closed earlier in the summer, as well as job cuts to B.C.’s logging contractors.

The Tolko closure will also trickle into other industries in the Okanagan and have an indirect impact on suppliers, contractors and others in the sector, Thomson said. Operating costs, stumpage fees and timber supplies have all contributed to the industry’s fallout.

“It another bit of bad news for this sector,” said Thomson.

“And it’s devastating news for the employees and families. We’ll be advocating to make sure the appropriate supports are brought in for those who lost their jobs. The [B.C.] government has been late on those responses like EI [Employment Insurance] and it’s impacting so many communities.”

READ MORE: Twice laid off due to sawmill closings, B.C. worker ready for a new career

READ MORE: Kelowna job market taking a hit due to speculation tax: CHBA

Tolko employees were on a six-week break and were expected to return to work on Sept. 16, but the mill closed its doors for ‘an indeterminate’ amount of time on Sept. 12, laying-off close to 130 employees.

“This decision was not easy for us to make,” said Tolko’s Troy Connolly at the time.

“We are very disappointed to be in a position where we have to curtail the mill, particularly given the reasons for this extension are beyond our control. However, with lumber market prices at sustained low levels and high log costs in B.C., the mill cannot be cost-competitive.”

As for any future fixes, Thomson said that as long as there is no significant response or action from the provincial government there won’t be a quick turnaround in the industry and there will be permanent mill closures across B.C.

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