Madam Speaker, in the first question period in the House, I spoke about the softwood lumber crisis in British Columbia and asked the government about its plans to deal with that issue. To be quite frank, the answer was not very satisfying with respect to that or even the acknowledgement of the extent of the crisis.
Hopefully, the government realizes the extent of the crisis, because it certainly has not taken any time to acknowledge it yet. For the people who might be listening, it is a very difficult time, especially in the interior of British Columbia with respect to the softwood lumber crisis.
This was not the first time I have brought it to the government's attention. In June, I talked about the Canfor sawmill in Vavenby, 170 jobs lost; Tolko Industries closure in Quesnel, 240 jobs lost; and the Norbord closure, 160 jobs lost. This has continued at a very rapid and concerning pace across British Columbia. About 20 mills have closed, and it seems to be growing every day. Thousands of workers are out of work in at least 27 communities. It is not just the workers in the mills, this impacts the contractors and many others.
The Canadian Press posted a headline on December 2, which said, “Hundreds of B.C. communities and thousands of workers struggle to survive in forestry industry carnage.” That is how people are describing this.
To give an example, a car dealer in one of the communities has repossessed 10 cars in the last while. The dealer said that one person begged him to accept a load of wood for his car payment so he could have his car at least until Christmas.
These are real people, real families and real struggles.
The workers sometimes have benefits that have been afforded to them through the EI or through severance. However, there are also all the logging truck drivers and contractors who do not have those benefits.
Another gentleman came in to see me. He has four young children. He has a logging truck. He has payments on his logging truck and as a private operator, he does not have the safety net that so many others do.
This is an important crisis in British Columbia and what has the government's response been to date?
Four years ago, when the bromance was very strong between the Prime Minister and President Obama, they committed to getting this job done. However, it was not in the mandate letters. The Prime Minister then said that his important responsibility with respect to SNC-Lavalin, which took him to the ethical wall, was protecting jobs.
There has been radio silence with respect to this issue. It has not been in the throne speech. There has not been a plan. We see the recent NAFTA. One of the biggest trade irritants between Canada and the U.S. has been softwood lumber, and that was not even discussed. When we reopened the discussions on NAFTA, that was a time to deal with the biggest trade irritant.
We are looking for a plan from the government.