'Our logs, our jobs!'
That's the chant that was heard across the District of Mackenzie today (Aug. 22) as almost 1,000 people rallied together in hopes of opening the ears of the provincial government.
The Mackenzie Matters rally was in support of the over 350 local forestry industry workers that have been off the job the last couple of months due to temporary or indefinite curtailments, and/or permanent closures of saw and pulp mills across B.C.
Families walked with their children, some walked in support of their friends, while others marched in elevating the spirit of the northern B.C. community.
One of those people was David Schindler and while he may not be directly impacted by the current curtailments, he used to work for East Fraser Fiber in Mackenzie when he was in the industry.
He claims the recent ‘fail’ of the industry affects everyone in some way.
“I’ve lived here a long time to know that it doesn’t matter where you work here, the closures will hit everyone,” said Schindler while speaking with PrinceGeorgeMatters ahead of the parade. “Everybody here is basically related to, or knows, someone working in those mills and they need everyday items to function. So, the grocery store is going to feel the impact, the gas station is going to feel it, the district hall.”
The 54-year-old also recalls a similar 2008 rally in Mackenzie, which was also in response to several curtailments and closures that took place that year.
He was happy to see the community come together then, but also realizes the emotional circumstances behind it.
“It’s sad to think only in times of crisis is when our community comes together,” he explained. “I wish there was a time where we could rally in celebration of something, but if we don’t speak up when times get tough, then nobody will hear us. We’d be silent for no good reason. I’m very happy to stand here today with my community as someone who worked in the industry for many years.”
From Quesnel to Vavenby, Prince George to Fort St. James, and Mackenzie to Taylor, forestry cuts, closures, and curtailments have been taking over northern B.C. mills in 2019 as early as May.
The claim is due to a struggling market, high cost of fibre, and supply issues, and the Mackenzie Matters rally wanted to keep logs local so they could preserve jobs and life security for generations to come.
“Mackenzie is not prepared to become the supplier of log facilities in other parts of the province while our mills sit idle,” Joan Atkinson, Mayor of Mackenzie, said at the rally, which was erupted afterwards by applause and cheers. “This province was built on resource extraction and processing natural resources, but the most important contributors were the men and women who moved their families to these resource industry towns and made lives in communities.”
.@mackenziematte1 rally is bringing in residents of all ages, some sporting shirts with #MackenzieBC on them. Parents explain they’re standing for the good of their ‘children & their children’s children’ | @PGMatters pic.twitter.com/m435SLpSOd— Kyle Balzer (@KyleBalzer) August 22, 2019
When B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson took the speaker stage at the Mackenzie Recreation Centre, despite hearing some retaliatory shouts from the crowd, he said the NDP are ready to help ‘impacted workers and their communities.’
“My ministry, B.C. Timber Sales, is currently in discussions with Conifex about how government can support their efforts to restart the sawmill,” the Stikine MLA said at the podium. “We know restarting Conifex would provide support not only for mill workers but also downstream for businesses in the area [...] and that’s why we’re doing everything we can to ensure there is fibre available for the Conifex mill. We are confident those details will be worked by the end of this month.”
He said the future of the industry will likely not look the same as it did decades ago, but the province is taking measures to keep the lumber market competitive and making sure families in rural resource communities are kept afloat.
As for Schindler, he just wants there to be a light at the end of the tunnel for his friends that haven’t clocked in at the Mackenzie mills for over two months.
“I want my community to thrive. I’ve lived here all my life and there’s so much we have to offer. Legislation just needs to get something done soon. I hope they do.”
Today’s rally was the second big event in Mackenzie this week, coming five days after several residents, RCMP, and volunteers searched and found four-year-old George Hazard-Benoit in the bush near Lions Lake.
Local and regional speakers took the time to praise Mackenzie for showing B.C. what it means to come together as a community and putting personal issues aside for the greater good.
These are some of the signs #MackenzieBC residents carried through the rally today, they’re lined up at the stage ahead of speeches from dignitaries | @mackenziematte1 @PGMatters pic.twitter.com/APZV8vjD8n— Kyle Balzer (@KyleBalzer) August 22, 2019