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Free Fallin’

Job loses were really tough, but things could be looking up

A new report from the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance shows tourism and forestry have taken big hits over the past several years

Two of VanIsle’s top job-generating industries are struggling. That’s according to a recent report by the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance.

Tourism and forestry are the backbones of the Island economy. Both have shed thousands of jobs over the past several years. But they’ve done so for totally different reasons.

Tourism was super busy between 2014 and 2019. That’s partly because the Canadian dollar was low and the global economy was strong. That created 4,000 new jobs in tourism, which included hospitality, recreation, and other related businesses.

Then COVID hit. Visitors stopped coming—for good reason. But it was still a tough blow to weather.

Companies that rely on foreign visitors were hit particularly hard. By the end of 2021, over 3,000 tourism jobs had disappeared.

That’s not just an abstract number; it’s actual people losing their livelihoods.

Logging is a different story. Instead of being hit by a global emergency, it has spun out because of bad management.

Since 2014, annual logging rates on Vancouver Island have dropped by about 10%. During that time, one large mill and several smaller ones closed.

But the trend of closing mills, cutting jobs, and shifting more toward log exports is decades in the making.  

Western Forest Products is the one large logging company that still manufactures wood products on VanIsle. None of the major private land loggers like TimberWest, Island Timberlands, and Hancock have their own mills here.

There’s one bright spot in value-added manufacturing investment on VanIsle. The Surrey-based San Group built a new $70 million mill in Port Alberni in 2020. The last time a forest company built a new mill in BC was more than 15 years ago.

The industry has faced other challenges. The US placed tariffs on Canadian wood products after the softwood lumber deal expired. The 8-month strike at Western Forest Products, which ended in early 2020, didn’t help.

All of this led to more than 2,900 Island forest workers losing their jobs between 2014 and 2021.

Whether you work in forestry or tourism, life has been pretty tough these last few years.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. For one, tourists are coming back. If anything, there are more jobs than people in tourism these days.

And the BC government predicts there will be 150,000 new jobs on VanIsle over the next ten years.

While these might not fix the pain of a job loss right away, these developments are signs of hope on the horizon.