One of the challenges that all Provincial and Federal Governments face is communicating policy in a manner that is easily understood by citizens. On the surface this may sound simple but sometimes policy can be difficult and timely to explain easily. Further, opposition parties and other interest groups may either intentionally or unintentionally mispresent policy in manner that may undermine or generate public opposition.
I mention these things as the current BC election has resulted in some issues being raised that require more information to properly scrutinize. As an example of this in the community of Merritt one of the largest lumber mills has shut down in the past year creating significant hardship for many in this community. As forestry is an area that falls into Provincial jurisdiction this has become an election issue specifically as it has been alleged by some that the reason this mill closed is related to raw log exports.
In principal most would agree that exporting raw logs to be processed in mills outside of British Columbia should not occur if BC Lumber mills are closing as a result of a lack of timber supply. This raises the question why has no Provincial Government of any political stripe actually banned raw log exports once in power.
Part of the answer to this question is understanding how the process around exporting raw logs, technically known as “unmanufactured timber” actually works. Essentially the process involves three steps. The first step is to acquire an exemption of the requirement that lumber harvested in BC is also processed in BC. Part of the exemption process involves advertising the timber supply in question to be potentially exported on a Provincial list of timber for sale. This bi-weekly advertising list means that a domestic BC mill operator has the opportunity to buy these raw logs before they could be legally exported from BC. If there is an offer to purchase an advisory committee will determine that price is fair market value for all parties involved. If the offer is deemed fair the logs in question will remain in BC to be processed by the successfully bidding mill owner. If there is no interest or suitable buyers found the logs will be considered surplus for BC’s domestic needs and be eligible for export.
Once raw logs are deemed surplus an application can be made for a BC Permit to export the logs in question before moving on to the final stage of the process that is a Federal permit for export. Why do some BC lumber mills not bid on these raw logs? There are a number of different reasons for this that may depend on specific circumstances. Many BC Mills have become highly specialized in dealing with specific types of timber to produce a unique value added product. In some cases the timber available for sale may not be of the type or quality desired by the Mill in question. In other circumstances the transport costs may not make purchasing logs in one area of BC economical if there is a sufficient distance to transport. Cost may be another factor more so if the raw logs are from a private forest owner or a First Nations community looking to obtain maximum value.
The intent of my column today is not to defend raw log exports as ideally I believe Governments of all political stripes support increased value added wood manufacturing here in B.C. Forestry remains a critically important industry to many communities in British Columbia and one challenge will be to encourage more investment into value added processing operations with access to a diverse range of markets.
Although raw logs is not an issue of federal jurisdiction I welcome your thoughts on ways Government can promote more value added wood manufacturing. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.