Friday, May 8, 2009

Liberal Government has not favoured forest industry workers

Editorial by Ron Fisher

Elko workers should understand the ONLY reason the Elko mill
is even here today is because of the tie-in that previously existed
between timber rights and the Elko sawmill.

Back in the past Socred government days, and even in the
following NDP governments, local mills kept running with local
timber using a very old clause, the Appurtenancy
Clause, in the Forest Act, REQUIRING TIMBER TO BE
PROCESSED at the mill to which the a Timber Harvesting
Licence is tied.

In the 1980's, during similar poor economic times, we were
represented locally by Socred M.L.A., Terry Segarty, whose
often repeated phrase, "use it or lose it," referred to the right of
government to remove timber harvesting rights from forest
companies if they did not keep local mills operating (financial
conditions considered of course.)

This appurtenancy clause in the Forest Act is what gave the
1980's "Elko Concerned Employees Group" the right to ask
Terry Segarty to ensure that when Crestbrook bought the Elko
mill, they would not close it down completely and let Crestbrook
transfer all the timber harvesting rights from the Elko operation
to their Cranbrook mill. Terry committed Crestbrook to maintain
a minimum small log operation in Elko, with minimum of one shift.
Of course, Crestbrook realized since they had to, under law,
keep a mill running in Elko, then it should be a cost effective
operation, and thus we have the current continuance of an
efficient sawmill in Elko.

(By the way, the 1980's "Elko Concerned Employees Group" was
an ad-hoc group of Elko workers who voluntarily organized to
preserve the operation of the Elko mill. Included in that group
were grass-roots people: Steve Smitna of Cranbrook, John deJong of Jaffray, Glenness Milette of Elko, Eric Fisher of Elko, Jack Cunliffe of Fernie, Ron Fisher of Elko, and Bill Morowski of Fernie. We canvassed Elko workers, and pressured Federal and Provincial politicians, and even entertained the idea of employee ownership
but did not follow through with that idea. After much letter
writing, and attending many meetings, we finally culminated in an
important meeting with Crestbrook officials at the Town and
Country boardroom to gain commitments from them to keep the
Elko mill running.)

Should a similar circumstance have arisen today, the results from
efforts of an "Elko Concerned Employee Group" today would be
far different. That is because the current Liberal government has
a few years ago quietly removed the appurtenancy clause in the
forest act, thereby allowing forest companies to move harvested
timber anywhere they so choose, and the companies can do with
that timber anything they so desire. To me, that is a failure to
defend workers, like you and me, and a failure to defend
communities in forest dependent areas, like Elko. If our local
forest harvests can be economically milled in Radium or
elsewhere, what is left in Elko for our community to survive on?

I ask myself, why has the Liberal government decided to let this
happen? To me it is clearly designed to favour the big forest
companies, letting them have total control over our public forest
resource. The Liberal government forest policy, in my opinion, is
not designed to protect the status quo of forest industry workers
and their forest industry based communities. Sadly, the forest industry companies are favoured, while the Liberal Government has not favoured forest industry workers, like you and me.

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