04/15/2013 02:41 EDT | Updated 06/15/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Election 2013: NDP Promises Millions To Forest Industry

B.C. NDP/Flickr

PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix has released a multimillion dollar election plan that he believes will help grow and improve B.C.'s forest industry, but critics say the proposal makes promises that will be hard to keep.

In Prince George Monday, Dix announced the five-point forestry plan that would see $310 million invested in the industry over five years if his party wins the election in May.

The NDP leader announced his government would invest in skills training, to improve forest health, to expand global markets for B.C. lumber and to cut raw log exports, while it reinstates a jobs protection commissioner.

"Skills training is really the principle focus of our economic plan, to ensure young people have the skills they need for the jobs of the future," Dix said.

The BC Liberal Party immediately criticized the plan, saying it lacks policy details.

"After months of delay, I think British Columbians were expecting more," said Forest Minister Steve Thomson in a news release.

George Hoberg, a forest policy expert at the University of British Columbia, said Dix's promise to reduce raw log exports will be hard to keep.

"Raw logs are always something that politicians talk about, but it's actually very hard to deliver in terms of either policy or real change in the industry," Hoberg said.

"Our comparative advantage is in raw resource material or in commodities, not in more labour-intensive value-added production," he said.

The NDP's commitment to improve forest health includes an emphasis on increasing the province's research capacity, updating forest inventories and doubling the number of seedlings planted annually.

Hoberg said he is impressed with the plan's focus on forest health.

"The biggest challenge that we face in forestry is renewing the forest that has been disseminated by the mountain pine beetle and the Liberals have not been particularly effective at investing resources on that," Hoberg said.

"The one big change that we will likely see, if the NDP is elected, is a greater commitment to government funding of inventory and silviculture," he said.

Hoberg was surprised at the lack of discussion of environmental issues in the NDP plan — something he said the Liberal forestry plan also lacks.

Ken Wu at the Ancient Forest Alliance called the plan "a big disappointment ecologically."

"It essentially continues the unsustainable status quo of old growth liquidation and over cutting which has led to the collapse of ecosystems and communities," Wu said.

Dix campaigned for party leadership with a promise to address old growth deforestation, but he now appears to be reneging on his commitment, Wu said.

"We are hoping that the party will move forward with additional policy commitments in the lead up to the election so that Dix fulfills his promise to develop a provincial old growth plan which was his 2011 leadership bid promise," Wu said.

Dix said the plan was developed in consultation with forest industry businesses, union leaders and with communities.

Some of the suggestions are in line with a 2011 report created by the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, which suggests tightening raw log exports and increasing staff levels within the B.C. forest service.

A spokesperson from the Council of Forest Industries, which represents over a dozen forest companies in the province, wasn't available for comment.

— By Tyler Harbottle in Vancouver

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