British Columbia

Fort St. John gives $75K in forestry aid to the Salvation Army

The City of Fort St. John has decided to give $75,000 of provincial support intended to help the municipality's ailing forestry workers to the Salvation Army's food hub program. 

Mayor says the decision ensures the money will be spent as effectively as possible

Softwood lumber is pictured at Tolko Industries in Heffley Creek, B.C., in 2018. Some British Columbia towns are hurting from a major forestry downturn attributed to high log prices and dwindling timber supply. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The City of Fort St. John, B.C., decided on Tuesday to give $75,000 of provincial support intended to help the municipality's ailing forestry workers to the Salvation Army's food hub program. 

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman said this move was the "most effective" way of distributing the financial aid to those who need it most. According to Ackerman, the Salvation Army has seen a considerable rise in demand over the past year as B.C's forestry industry has continued to founder. 

"The Salvation Army is very efficient in how they manage things, and they have significant partners in the community [...] to ensure that the food is used in a timely fashion and to the best of its use," Ackerman told CBC's Andrew Kurjata. 

She said the money will flow to the food bank, the soup kitchen, and be used for meals to feed schoolchildren and seniors in need. Fort St. John received the provincial money through British Columbia's Community Support Grants Program.

The northern resource town is one of many across British Columbia currently hurting from a major downturn attributed to high log prices and dwindling timber supply. With scores of mill closures across the province, more than 6,000 people lost their jobs last year alone, resulting in an 11 per cent drop in provincial forest revenues. Meanwhile, 3,000 forestry union workers on Vancouver Island remain on a strike that recently entered its seventh month. 

In September, the provincial government committed $69 million to aid thousands of laid-off forestry workers in B.C.'s Interior, where at least 22 mills ceased operations in 2019. 

Shortly after meeting with Premier John Horgan and other mayors from northern B.C on Tuesday, Fort St. James Mayor Bev Playfair extended the municipality's state of local financial crisis for the sixth time. 

Fort St. James Mayor Bev Playfair speaks to media at a news conference in Prince George with Premier John Horgan and other northern B.C. mayors on Tuesday. (Andrew Kurjata )

The small town at the foot of Stuart Lake first announced a state of financial crisis this past July after operations ceased at the local mill, leaving 226 residents without a job. This latest closure marks the third time the facility has shuttered. The mill's new owner, Hampton Lumber, plans to build a new mill, though it's not expected to be up and running until 2022. 

"It's had a huge impact on our community," said Playfair about the local decline in forestry. 

She commended the provincial government for its financial support of B.C.'s beleaguered forestry industry but said she's heard only crickets from Ottawa. 

"We haven't had any federal help," Playfair said. "We need federal funding."

"I don't think the forestry workers have been recognized like the automotive industry, the steel workers, the oil industry in Alberta," she continued. "In all the conversation in the last six or eight months, I've never heard the B.C. forestry workers recognized or mentioned. And we have a lot of people hurting right now that are losing homes, losing vehicles."

Horgan speaks to the media at Prince George city hall on Tuesday. (Andrew Kurjata )

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall echoed Playfair's comments about the lack of federal support, as did Premier John Horgan.

"Forest workers are critically important to British Columbia and they need to be treated as fairly and equitably as other sectors across the country," Horgan told reporters. 

Last week, the provincial government made $5 million in loans available to help forestry contractors in danger of losing their equipment due to the ongoing strike.

With files from Andrew Kurjata, Bridgette Watson and The Canadian Press

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