Province's inaction on months-long forestry dispute riles Island mayor

Port McNeill’s mayor says the B.C. government’s refusal to resolve a protracted forestry sector labour dispute is “intensely frustrating.”

“The government has the power to assist them in reaching an agreement but refuses to offer anything more than ‘talking to both sides,’ ” said Mayor Gaby Wickstrom.

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Premier John Horgan addressed the Truck Loggers Association convention in Vancouver on Thursday, and touched on “the elephant in the room” — a dispute between Western Forest Products Inc. and United Steelworkers Local 1-1937, which started on July 1.

“I agree that seven months is ridiculous,” said Horgan. “I agree with you that it is unsustainable going forward.”

A labour disruption of seven months is unprecedented in B.C. history, said Horgan, asking everyone in the room to speak compassionately and peacefully to all involved in the dispute to find a way forward.

“No matter where you come down on the dispute between workers and a company, a large, large company, you know it’s not just hurting you and your families and your businesses, it’s hurting the B.C. economy,” said Horgan, who announced a $5-million Coastal Logging Equipment Support Trust to fund bridge loans for contractors whose equipment is under threat of repossession.

Horgan said he has strongly encouraged both sides in the dispute to “get on with it.”

Official talks have not re-opened.

“I am confident as the days go by in this week and into early next week we will have something positive to say from the table but if anyone in this room has ever been in a negotiation the best way forward is … to conclude that negotiation at the table, both parties coming away with give and with take,” said Horgan.

Horgan said the same thing to reporters at a news conference on Monday. He said mediator Vince Ready is on hand, “but the best deal will be the one that’s made at a negotiating table.”

Wickstrom said if the strike lasts much longer, some families won’t be able to recover from maxed-out credit cards that are helping them make ends meet.

“Repeating ‘the best agreement is reached at the bargaining table,’ is not enough,” said Wickstrom.

“Yes, if the process is working, but after seven months the USW/WFP bargaining process is broken.

“We are at the stage where someone needs to help them reach the best agreement possible because many people are caught in the crossfire,” said Wickstrom.

The way the mayor sees it, the NDP government wants Western Forest Products’ tenure reduced, the union wants back what it lost in prior binding arbitration, and the company wants to reduce costs to be more profitable.

“And there in the midst of it all sit the workers and their communities suffering for it,” said Wickstrom.

Campbell River Mayor Andy Adams and two city councillors are also at the truck loggers convention. “We’ll be speaking out at every opportunity about the devastating effects on Campbell River of the prolonged labour dispute,” said Adams.

“As the urban hub for the forest industry and north island communities, we see the struggles of families and businesses in our community and in our region because of the unacceptable length of this dispute.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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