British Columbia

'How many times will this happen?': Mayors fear impacts of softwood tariffs

“The forest industry plays such a big role in the community. We lose employment, people leave the community," says mayor of Castlegar.

For towns like Quesnel and Castlegar, mills are a major source of employment and economic health

The West Fraser Timber Company sawmill in Quesnel is one of North America's largest. It faces a 24 per cent tariff from the U.S. (Christer Waara/CBC)

New tariffs on Canadian lumber exports to the U.S. have mayors of logging communities in B.C. worried about how local economies — and people — will endure.

U.S. lumber tariffs ranging from three to 24 per cent are expected to come into effect next week.

Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff still remembers previous rounds of duties, which he says affected every aspect of life in the city.

He fears this round will be worse.

"Without a doubt in my mind, I'm worried," Chernoff said. "The forest industry plays such a big role in the community. 

"Our community depends on small business and small business depends on the employers that surround our community ... We lose employment, people leave.

"People are feeling, how many times will this happen?"

High prices, demand could soften blow

Quesnel is home to a West Fraser Timber Company facility, one of North America's biggest sawmills. 

But Mayor Bob Simpson told Radio West host Rebecca Zandbergen that staff are actually relieved the tariff wasn't higher and said most mills had braced for such a duty as talks stalled.

"As much as we don't like the tariff, it's not an irrational number," he said. "We are one of the most forest-dependant communities in the province ... at least 40 per cent of our employment base is employed, in one way or another, in the forest sector."

Simpson says high prices and demand for Canadian lumber could lessen the damage of the tariffs, at least in the short term.

"We really don't know what the hit's going to be and we aren't going to understand that for some time," the mayor said.

Listen to the full interview with Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson:

With files from Anita Bathe and CBC Radio One's Radio West