Ravi Kahlon, parliamentary secretary for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, visited the District of Clearwater (DOC) recently to discuss new supports for Interior forestry workers affected by mill closures.
At the Sept. 18 meeting, Kahlon talked with mayor and council about the cost-shared early-retirement bridging program for older forestry workers, and the short-term forest employment program that will focus on fire prevention projects.
Other topics on the agenda included grants for retraining, and the new job placement co-ordination office, that will track the transition and employment of impacted forest workers on a one-on-one basis.
Local forestry workers who are 55-years-old and older are eligible for the early retirement program, which will take effect on Oct. 1.
“Conversations are happening right now with the companies that have had closures to get the list of workers who are eligible so we can start reaching out and having those conversations,” said Kahlon, adding ministry staff is trying to find out what kinds of retirement packages companies are putting in place so government can work with them to top them up.
“(This will) ensure workers that are 55 and over can have that bridging of the pension and have an early retirement, so that younger workers can occupy the employment opportunities that will remain.”
In total, the B.C. government is putting $40 million into creating the cost-shared early retirement bridging program for forestry workers across the province.
As for the short-term forest employment program, Kahlon said those at the meeting were eager to see projects around the Clearwater community get started so workers who were laid off could get some work and also make the community safer.
The government put $15 million toward this specific program to be spread out provincially and is earmarked for shovel ready projects.
“What will have to happen first is regional offices will have to connect with communities to find out what those shovel ready fire prevention projects will be, so we can get money out the door,” Kahlon said.
“Although we don’t have a specific one today, because the announcement just happened (Sept, 17), work has already begun to identify them.”
There will also be $12 million for grants to get workers any retraining needed to find new jobs and $2 million to form the job placement coordination office that will help workers find the employment opportunities, as well as $100,000 for communities that have faced permanent mill closures.
“Clearwater would be one that gets the $100,000 and the cities can come to us about what would be the best use of that money,” said Kahlon.
“We’re really letting communities decide what their needs are, because every community varies, and so we’re going to leave a lot of that up to the local leaders to decide where they feel the priority is — some might want to spend it on economic development strategies, some want to put capacity n place for other initiatives in the communities and we’re open to being flexible on that.”