Premier declares Midway an example for B.C.

Erin Perkins
By Erin Perkins
February 8th, 2012

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark made an unprecedented visit to the Midway Mill, Monday, Feb. 6 to appreciate and learn from what the community has done to keep their mill running.

She toured the facility, spoke to the more than 30 employees who came in to meet her and learned a lot about what it took to get the mill running again, after it’s closure in 2007 by Pope and Talbot. She was accompained by two cabinet ministers, the Speaker of the House, local councillors and MLA Boundary Similkamean John Slater.

“(The Midway mill) is such a perfect example of what happens when we work together and this mill is a product of ingenuity, imagination and a lot of courage on the part of local people who wanted to find a way to get the mill back open,” said Clark during a private interview with the Boundary Sentinel.

“There are more examples in British Columbia’s history of where that hasn’t happened and mills have been closed. So, I wanted to come and visit because my government’s central focus is in making sure we can put families to work and people to work so they can put food on the table for their kids and this is a great example of how you can preserve jobs in a community.”

During the tour, Clark was able to see the kind of wood being milled on site and she met with local politicians and stakeholders to discuss the challenges and lessons they learned to get the mill operational again.

“Wow, we were very excited,” said Midway mayor Randy Kappes. “It was a great day … She showed a real appreciation for all the work our community did to get things going.”

Kappes presented Clark with a pin from the village so she could remember her visit. Clark said this was the first time a Premier had visited Midway.

“Not only am I the first Premier to Midway, I am the first Premier to have brought with her two cabinet ministers, the speaker of the house, and two MLAs,” she said. “I think it speaks to the importance of the mill to the province for such a big contingent of government representatives to come to it to see what they’re doing there.”

As part of her tour, Clark also wanted to hear about the challenges Midway faced when dealing with the government, and how her government can make the process easier for other communities facing the same issues.

Financing was a challenge the community had to overcome, including some possibly unneccesary hurdles by the government.

“There are some rules within the Ministry of Finance, which have made putting this deal together more difficult than it needed to be, so I’d like to find a way to address some of those,” said Clark. “John Slater has been a tireless figher for this mill and John and I are going to work together to find some solutions for this mill.”

Timber supply is one of the biggest challenges facing the mill today, said Clark.

“They just need more wood to operate,” said Clark. “They need enough timber supply to make sure they can continue to operate and to add a second shift.”

One possible wood source is a community forest, which Midway has applied for and been approved to continue in the application process, said Kappes. The application asks for up to 23,000 cubic meters of wood to be managed.

“I don’t have any specific answers for (the community forest) yet, but we talked about the need to find a solution (to the timber question) and kind of inch the problem forward and that’s what we’re working on,” said Clark, adding they’d only spoken briefly about it during the tour.

“I see huge potential (for the longevity of the mill),” said Clark. “Australia is looking for their wood and I think Asia will be interested in their wood too. The B.C. Jobs Plan is all about opening up new markets for B.C. wood (and other B.C. products). That’s what is going to put people in Midway, Grand Forks, Christina Lake and in other smaller communities to work when we get more people to buy the things that we produce.”

“China alone has an insatiable appetite for everything we produce here.”

Midway Mill is owned by Boundary Sawmills Inc. (BSI) which is composed of a board. The contracted mill operator is Vaagen Fiber Canada, which is part of Vaagen Brothers, a company based out of Colville, Washington.

When asked about her stance on Canadian logs heading south for processing she said she didn’t want to be critical of the situation.

“I know that a minority percentage goes south but you know the thing is that family (Vaagen Brothers) stepped up to run the mill and make it work, so I’m renasant to be critical of the solution that they found at the mill because they found a solution and it’s better than no solution,” she said. “The thing is, the perfect is the enemy of the good. I don’t think that in government, or in any other area of life, that we should be only looking for the perfect because you want good.”

Her vision for the Boundary region in terms of economic stimulous is to market tourism “aggressively”.

“Tourism is obviously a big part of the jobs plan — we’re doubling our sales force in Asia and we’re marketing every corner of British Columbia aggressively,” said Clark. “We are going to have some success in marketing this region of the world.”

Clark is confident mining and foresty will also do well.

During her trip through southern B.C., Clark also visited Osoyoos before going to Midway. While there she announced the creation of a new 360-cell Okanagan Correctional Facility.

In September 2011, Clark launched the new B.C. Jobs Plan, an initiative that aims to market B.C.s benefits and resources to the world and in creating long-term sustainable jobs for British Columbians. For more information about the plan visit www.bcjobsplan.ca.