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Reactions pour in to mill closure

September 14, 2015

By: The Daily Townsman

Reactions continue to pour in to the news that the Canal Flats saw mill will close permanently in early November.

On Wednesday, Canfor announced the permanent closure of the mill effective Nov. 9, 2015, which will impact roughly 80 jobs.

The USW Local 1-405 immediately decried the announcement, as president Doug Singer noting that the closure came pretty much out of the blue.

“There was nothing communicated to us that would lead us to believe that there was any imminent problem coming down the road in the near future at home,” Singer said.

Rig matting and access matting production—a big part of the mill operation—had taken a particularly hard hit, according to Singer.

“They hadn’t told us that the market had gotten worse from what we were aware of,” he said.

The closure comes after layoffs in May, which claimed roughly 100 jobs and reduced the operation down to one shift.

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald expressed his disappointment over the news in a press release.

“I am not particularly surprised that Canfor has made the decision to close the sawmill in Canal Flats, as forest corporations no longer have any responsibility to mill wood near where it is harvested, or to take into consideration the effects of their business decisions on the communities they work in,” said Macdonald.

Macdonald took issue with ‘appurtenance obligation’ changes made by the provincial government to the Forest Act agreement.

“The way it was set up prior to 2003 by the Social Credit government was that wood from an area needed to be milled in that area,” Macdonald said.

“The BC Liberals removed that obligation in 2003 and since then there has been a consolidation of milling. It makes sense for the companies of course, but for rural BC it leads to removal of industry.  200 mills have closed since the BC Liberals changed that policy.”

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett also lamented the news of the mill closure.

“It’s terrible news, obviously, to the community of Canal Flats, it’s their major employer, their major economic driver and it’s going to spell big challenges for the municipality,” Bennett said.

He added that there is a program already in place within the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism & Skills Training that helps with transitions in communities that have major layoffs in operations such as mills or mines.

“We have a swat team of people within the jobs ministry—it’s not a huge team of people—but it’s a very experienced and skilled group that goes into communities like Canal Flats and surrounding communities like Cranbrook and up the Columbia Valley where the workers live and work with the workers and try to help them through the transition to another job,” Bennett said.

“So that is happening today, those folks mobilized yesterday as soon as we got word about this.”

Singer noted that there will be opportunities for employees to transfer within the company, while other pertinent information will also be made available.

“We’ll work together to get information out to employees and our members and make sure they understand the ramifications to the pension, what the severance pay is, how that works, what they can do with the severance pay, what job opportunities there might be, all of that kind of stuff,” he said.

Canfor officially acknowledged the closing of the Canal Flats saw mill with the following statement on Wednesday:

“Our CEO and members of the senior management team were in Canal Flats today to announce the permanent closure of the facility,” said Corrine Stavness. “While we understand how difficult this will be for our employees and the community of Canal Flats, recent downturns in the oil and gas and lumber markets that the mill served combined with a lack of economically available fibre for the mill have brought operating losses we can no longer sustain.

“Moving to permanent closure means that the employees impacted by this announcement will be entitled to severance. We expect the last day of operations for the mill to be November 9, 2015. We will be establishing a transition office to help impacted employees, all of whom will be offered opportunities to transfer to other Canfor divisions.”

Other mill operations in the region include facilities in Gallaway (locally owned), Elko (Canfor), Radium (Canfor), Skookumchuck (Paper Excellence) and Golden (Louisiana-Pacific).

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