Protest convoy of up to 200 logging trucks rolling towards downtown Vancouver

As many as 200 logging trucks are expected to come rumbling through downtown Vancouver on Wednesday, bringing the plight of B.C.’s embattled forestry sector to provincial leaders.

Government MLAs and the province’s mayors are gathered at Vancouver’s convention centre for the annual Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention.

Convoy co-organizer Frenk Etchart, who owns Nadina Logging Ltd., told Global News action to address mill closures and curtailments in the province is needed immediately.

“We want to bring awareness to the public and to our current sitting government that we are pressed for time, we don’t have time anymore,” he said.

“It’s happening. So we are asking for help and the only one who can help us right now is the government.”

Truckers were gearing up in Merritt and aiming for a 7:30 a.m. departure.

Organizers said they understand the rally will disrupt traffic, but it will highlight an issue that is near and dear to small-town British Columbians who are losing jobs in the forestry industry.

The province says there have been four permanent mill closures in the B.C. interior, affecting between 500 and 700 workers, along with 13 indefinite closures affecting another 1,000 workers.

With curtailments included, the province estimates as many as 3,000 workers could be impacted.

Experts have said high log costs and lack of timber availability are making B.C.’s forestry industry unprofitable, noting there are fewer costs attached to the forestry sector in neighbouring Alberta.

Many in the industry have pointed to the stumpage fees forestry companies pay to the province to harvest trees as a key problem.

The B.C. government has resisted a wholesale review of those fees, warning that lowering them could put B.C. at risk in ongoing and contentious softwood lumber negotiations with the U.S.

U.S. industry has previously argued low B.C. stumpage fees amount to an unfair subsidy of the industry in trade complaints.

B.C.s NDP government has instead pushed plans to promote value-added forestry products, such as mass timber technology.

The province has also announced a $69-million aid package, which includes an early-retirement bridging program and a new short-term forest employment program centred on fire prevention, community resilience projects and skills training.

The opposition BC Liberals have harshly criticized that program as “half-baked,” pointing out that it will absorb funding that was previously dedicated to B.C.’s $25-million Rural Dividend Fund.

— With files from Emily Lazatin and Richard Zussman

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