Mackenzie residents held a protest rally Tuesday afternoon after the recent announcement that Paper Excellence Canada will be curtailing its pulp mill operations, putting 253 employees out of work indefinitely on Aug. 9.
Hundreds gathered in their cars at Mackenzie's municipal office to start the convoy to its final destination at Canadian Forest Products on Mill Road to peacefully protest the fact all three major private employers of the town of Mackenzie will soon be closed.
Conifex Timber curtailed its sawmill operations in April and Canfor curtailed its sawmill operations in July 2019, which resulted in more than 400 unemployed millworkers.
With signs that said 'our logs, our jobs,' 'our logs, our future,' 'we want to stay in Mackenzie and work', 'save our logs,' and 'save our kids' futures' the citizens of Mackenzie are asking that the raw logs leaving the town of about 3,700 come to an end.
Retired resident Christine Berndt, who has lived in Mackenzie for 44 years and worked at Canfor for 41 years, took the microphone to make demands for change.
"Every new administrator, director, deputy - whatever label they give themselves - just shrug their shoulders and we are ignored as they add to the forest sector's problems," she said. "Well, enough is enough. Time to make our government - the one we voted in - stand up and make the right decisions for all of us, not just the big companies who seem to be running our province. I see many familiar faces here - many who helped build this town and we don't want to give it up. I will fight for my family, my town and my life."
Berndt's family will experience great loss, she said. Her son's family will have to move when her son Daniel loses his job in August.
The two families live four doors down from each other and seeing Daniel, his wife and two children, aged three and six, leave the community after living here their entire lives will be devastating to all of them, Berndt added.
"We choose to live here and to be forced out because of greed - and that's all this is is greed - it's terrible," Berndt said. "Can I stay here when there's no dentist, when the hospital gets downsized to a first aid station and there's no more volunteer fire department? We're already down to one grocery store and now I'm going to have to go to Prince George to do everything like back in the 60s?"
It's a rural lifestyle she and her family has chosen.
"We have an acreage - I love my garden, my yard, my husband's an avid hunter, we ski-doo, we four-wheel, we camp, I get to see my grandchildren all the time and we're not doing that in downtown Vancouver," Berndt said. "We don't want to move but they're forcing our hands."
Rick Johnstone, a 48-year resident and 25-year employee of the pulp mill, was admittedly emotional as the microphone was offered to those at the rally who wished to say a few words.
"When I see people stand up for what they believe in it makes me feel like a human being," Johnstone said to cheers, applause and horns honking. "I've been here since 1972 and I've lived this history. I came here in '72 with two little kids and made a future."
Back in the day, he was told by a BC Forest Products rep they had enough timber to keep the five mills going in the community for 60 years if it was managed in a responsible manner, he added.
"Since then we've seen a lot of corporate citizens come and go and none of them have been like the founders of this town - BCFP (BC Forest Products)," Johnstone. "None of them have had this community in their heart."
The logs don't belong to any company, Johnstone said.
"These logs belong to every man, woman and child in this community and we've staked our future on it," he added. "I've got two daughters who are going to lose their jobs and I have grandchildren that are not going to have a legacy in this community if the government continues to allow the mills to keep doing what they're doing. I don't blame the corporations who are trying to feed their bottom line, satisfy their shareholders and sell us down the drain. I blame the government. Their office in town should be the one to shut down because they are the symbol of what's wrong with the forest ministry."
Forestry policies need to be changed to make it more sustainable, Johnstone said.
"It used to be that if you logged here you had to process your wood here," he said. "Then 10 years ago after the pine beetle came through here, things changed. The mills down south were out of wood - and that's where the votes are - and things changed after that."
Johnstone said companies could come in and bid on a cutblock and take the logs out of the area for processing.
"What's happened now is that has driven the price of logs up, increasing stumpage so the pulp mill has to pay twice as much for the chips up so that's not economical," Johnstone said. "And the other factor is without mills running here, we don't have the residual products like the hog, which is the waste of the log, to run the boiler and the other mill here has a sawdust digester so we don't get the sawdust and that means the mill won't keep running if it doesn't have a guaranteed fibre supply. All we're asking for is the government to step forward."
Right now, Canfor is selling logs to Dunkley, Johnstone said.
"Dunkley is taking them over to East Fraser and there's a big chipper there, so East Fraser chips the logs and takes them to the Canfor mill in Prince George," Johnstone said.
Chris Dixon, president of Unifor local 1092, said the protest was about the community coming together.
"It was about making some noise," Dixon said. "And I hope we are heard. We have the best community as we continue to come together."
Unifor had a sheet of paper made of pulp at a table at the rally where everyone was asked to place their hand print on it to be sent to government as a message.
"Citizens of Mackenzie, these are our trees, they belong to us and I encourage everyone to do what they can to protect our logs and our jobs," Dixon said.