The Liberals are making a mess of the forests file, politically and practically.
It's painful to watch Forest Minister Rich Coleman bluster in the legislature.
And it's surprising. In their second term, the Liberals have avoided getting hung up on ideological positions that leave them looking uncaring or inept.
Not on this issue. There's a disaster going on in the forest industry and the communities that depend on it. Mills are closing across the province, many of them permanently. That Bruce Springsteen lyric - "These jobs are going boys, and they ain't coming back" - is sadly apt.
The industry has shed about 13,000 jobs in the last year. In the same period, the economy has added about 70,000 jobs, so there are opportunities.
But the people being booted out of the forest industry aren't necessarily at the front of the line to get those jobs. And the plunge from an income of $60,000 a year to $25,000 is difficult.
Vonsider Mackenzie, a beautiful town of some 4,500 people, about two hours north of Prince George. In January, AbitibiBowater closed two sawmills and a paper mill. Those closures threw 325 people out of work. Now the Pope and Talbot pulp mill has closed shut. Another 260 people with no idea when, or where, or if, they would work again
In less than six months, 585 good, well-paid jobs were gone - about 20 per cent of the town's workforce.
Bad news for stores. People are spending as little as possible. If families start leaving, one of the two elementary schools could be threatened. The town, deprived of property taxes from the pulp mill, has to start looking at the rec centre budget.
And those people who have no jobs are trying to figure out where to go and what to do. Do you even list your house, when sellers outnumber buyers 10 to one?
The job losses in Mackenzie over the last five months are the equivalent of something like 220,000 layoffs in Greater Vancouver. That kind of economic and human catastrophe in the Lower Mainland would get some major government action.
But the Liberals have basically been spectators as the forest industry unravelled since they were elected.
Coleman is right. There are tough problems beyond any government's control. The U.S. housing market has collapsed. The Canadian dollar was worth 90 cents U.S. not a year ago; now the currencies are more less equal in value. That factor alone means producers are getting 10-per-cent less for their products than they did a year ago.
Those are significant factors. But Coleman seemed too much like he was making excuses.
After setting out all the problems in the legislature, demanded the Opposition "Quit selling false hopes over there."
Which sounded much like the government writing off the industry, and the families and communities that depend on it.
Coleman tried to recover. The government rushed an announcement of the ways it would spend $129 million in forestry aid from the federal government over the next three years. He quoted analysts who said things should get better in 18 months.
It's a tough sell. The government has appeared disinterested in the forest industry. There have been a lot of announcements and plans, but not much action.
As those 325 people in Mackenzie were losing their jobs in January, Premier Gordon Campbell announced a forestry roundtable. It seemed a bit like a cruel joke. The roundtable has yet to report.
Meanwhile, Coleman has handed Vancouver Island forest companies breaks worth hundreds of millions of dollars, because they asked for them. The result has been to free what was protected forest land for real-estate development.
The government has allowed increased raw log exports to protect jobs in the woods, accepting the damage to B.C. mills.
It looks like the government has just decided the industry's future is beyond its ability to influence.
Footnote: Expect a lot more questions for Coleman in the last days of this legislative session. The New Democrats believe he's much more interested in the housing side of his portfolio than forestry. And expect critics to compare the lack of new provincial money for forestry with the plan to spend a bundle on a new roof for BC Place stadium in Vancouver.