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Latest Canfor restructuring affects nearly 500 mill workers in northern B.C.

VANCOUVER — Canfor Corporation says as many as 157 employees face layoffs in one northern British Columbia town, but the company says it's too early to estimate job losses in a second community as the forest products firm restructures its B.C. operations.

Canfor announced Wednesday that it is permanently closing its sawmill and pellet plant in Chetwynd, west of Dawson Creek, and shuttering its sawmill in the Bulkley Valley town of Houston for an unspecified period while it builds a new facility there.

The Chetwynd closure is expected in April or May and the announcement came just two days after the mill reopened following a holiday curtailment. A company statement says Canfor is "committed to supporting displaced employees," and where possible, it says they will top the list for hiring at other mills.

The statement says "it is too early in the redevelopment planning process to fully understand" how many of the 333 employees in Houston could be laid off as Canfor designs what it describes as a "globally competitive manufacturing facility" producing "high-value products."

Canfor president Don Kayne has said the company is making "difficult but necessary decisions to create a more sustainable operating footprint" in B.C., and an email sent late Wednesday says the company will "explore creative options" to retain as many employees as possible.

Opposition Liberal forestry critic Mike Bernier, whose riding encompasses Chetwynd, says in a social media post that he is "devastated" by the closure of the Chetwynd mill, which comes about a week after Canfor confirmed it would close the pulp line at its Prince George operation, costing 300 jobs by the end of this year.

A lack of available fibre for the mills is one reason for the restructuring and the company estimates the Chetwynd and Houston shutdowns will remove approximately 750 million board feet of annual production capacity, or the equivalent of enough lumber to build nearly 46,000 houses.

"Our goal is to match our mill capacity with the economically available fibre for harvest," Kayne said in his statement released Wednesday. "This is what will ultimately create greater stability for our employees and communities."

Forests Minister Bruce Ralston issued a statement responding to the Canfor restructuring saying the B.C. government's immediate priority is to assist affected workers and provide community support teams.

The statement says the government welcomes Canfor's decision to build a new mill in Houston, producing higher-value products from a wood supply that has declined by more than 25 per cent since 2008, in part due to wildfires and the end of the harvest of beetle-killed timber.

Meanwhile, Western Forest Products issued a statement Thursday saying it will not restart work at its Alberni Pacific sawmill on Vancouver Island.

It says a working group with representatives from Western, the United Steelworkers union and Indigenous partners will spend the next 90 days exploring potential industrial manufacturing options for the Port Alberni facility that has been curtailed since last fall.

An analysis commissioned last year found "very limited" options for primary manufacturing at the facility to remain viable over the long term.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CFP, TSX:CFX, (TSX:WEF)

The Canadian Press