More than 100 trucks from across B.C. are expected to rally in Vancouver on Wednesday to protest job losses in the forestry industry.
The convoy is being formed by drivers from communities suffering financial hardship, including Burns Lake, Fort St. James, Fort St. John, Mackenzie and Merritt.
Around 120 trucks are already en route to Merritt, organizers say. The trucks are expected to leave Merritt around 10 a.m. PT and arrive in Vancouver around 2 p.m. PT, with the majority planning to congregate in the area of the Pacific National Exhibition.
Around 10 trucks will then drive past the Vancouver Convention Centre, where municipal and provincial leaders are gathered for the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, to send a message to government officials.
According to Todd Chamberlain, general manager of the Interior Logging Association, 120 trucks were already on the road by 7:30 a.m. PT Wednesday.
“It’s been very tough in some communities,” said Chamberlain, in a phone interview on CBC’s Daybreak Kamloops. “There is no end in sight.”
Chamberlain estimates there will be 250 trucks once all drivers have joined the convoy.
Howard McKimmon, an independent trucking contractor from Merritt who organized the rally, said he hopes the symbolic parade of trucks will make government officials aware of how many people are currently affected by a struggling forestry industry.
Thousands of workers have been laid off and at least 22 mills in the Interior have closed or curtailed operations this year due to a combination of forces, including the end of the mountain pine beetle harvest, wildfire devastation, high log costs and low prices due to a slumping U.S. market.
Earlier this month, the province announced $69 million in aid to beleaguered workers and called on the federal government to also step up and do more.
McKimmon said that money just doesn’t cut it. He estimated it amounts to less than $12,000 per worker, many of whom have been out of work for four to six months. McKimmon said he can no longer make the payments on the trucks he owns.
“It’s devastating,” said McKimmon, in a phone interview on CBC’s Daybreak North. “I’ve made my life in the forest industry, raised kids and grandkids in this industry … I don’t know what the future looks like.”
According to Chamberlain, the truckers are not asking for direct financial support from the provincial and federal government, but incentives that include a carbon tax exemption for the forestry industry.
“We asked to be at the table and we want to be part of the solution,” said Chamberlain.
The RCMP is expected to escort the truckers from Merritt on Wednesday morning. The RCMP will then hand off to the Vancouver Police Department when the trucks reach the city.
In a statement, VPD said it is liaising with convoy organizers and people should expect congestion along the Hastings Street and Cordova Street corridors in and out of the city Wednesday afternoon.