Ellis Ross would be the first to admit he doesn’t know a lot about the forestry industry.
“Forestry is an incredibly complicated topic. There’s no easy fix. There are so many different issues. It’s always been a bit of a mystery to me,” says the BC Liberal MLA for Skeena.
So he’s hosting a meeting Oct. 3 and is inviting anybody and everybody with ideas that would stimulate economic development and employment.
No registration is required for the session which lasts from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Days Inn on Lakelse Ave.
“What I’m looking for is a non-partisan discussion. I want to get good qualified people in the room,” said Ross of his plan.
Ross noted that forestry was once a dominant industry in the region — there was once a pulp and paper mill and a sawmill in Kitimat and a large sawmill, long since dismantled, in Terrace.
“And now we have a pellet plant in Terrace,” he said of Skeena Bio-Energy, a partner company next door to Skeena Sawmills from where it obtains its raw material.
“That’s an example of value-added — exporting to Asian markets,” said Ross. “Over the years I’ve seen proposals that make a lot of sense.”
He thinks, for example, there’s potential to based a modular housing factory in either Kitimat or Terrace that would use wood from the area.
“There’s going to be a lot of demand for modular housing,” said Ross, pointing to not just the LNG Canada project now underway in Kitimat but to the prospect of other liquefied natural gas plants.
And while Ross understands that whole log exports provide an income for businesses and people in the region, he wonders about the larger economic model of shipping a raw resource overseas and then buying it back as a finished and value-added product.
“I understand there are some realities we’d have to look at,” said Ross. “For ‘Made in Canada’ we might have to be prepared to pay a bit more.”
He also acknowledged the role that whole log exports play within First Nations in the region.
“First Nations control a lot of wood, exporting to Asia. I can see why they don’t want to cut the export market,” Ross continued.
“There might have to be some pain for a longer-term gain. That just might be part of the trade-off,” Ross said.
The MLA also thinks the wide variety of companies in the provincial forestry industry may have to forego the idea of making as much profit as possible in favour of putting people to work.
“Getting rid of unemployment has so many more benefits,” said Ross. “The money earned stays local and the government still gets a tax base.”
“The bottom line is I hate seeing people get laid off. I hate seeing unemployment. I hate seeing people have to leave to get a job in Alberta or other places. I hate that. I really feel for those guys getting laid off and I feel for their families,” he said.
Scheduled to be at the Oct. 3 session are BC Liberal MLA John Rustad who represents the Nechako Lakes riding which runs from Houston to Vanderhoof and north to Fort St. James and Mike Morris, the BC Liberal MLA representing the Prince George-Mackenzie riding.
There will be light refreshments.