May 21, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it difficult lessons for people around the world, including here in New Brunswick. The realization that many provinces and countries are not adequately self-sufficient should spur political leaders to focus more attention on local communities and resources – including in the forestry sector.
For too long, we have relied on multinationals for our economic well-being while overlooking our local strengths and abilities. It is clear today that we need to ensure we are looking after our own in order to create a more resilient economy and society.
“The government quite rightly sees this as an opportunity to spur economic growth in the private woodlot sector.
Already we have heard Premier Blaine Higgs stating similar thoughts in relation to food production and labour here in New Brunswick. Hopefully, he will keep those self-sufficient thoughts in mind when it comes to the forestry sector and the likelihood of some tough times ahead in lumber and pulp markets.
One of the mantras of the pandemic has been the oft-repeated: “We are all in this together.” That sentiment holds true in our forests as well as in our communities. Now is not the time to put the interests of big industry above those of others, notably the private woodlot owners.
JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Just before Christmas – which admittedly seems like a lifetime ago – Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland made some promising moves towards restoring fairness and balance in the marketplace.
The province announced plans to give private woodlots a larger share of the market to supply mills in New Brunswick while freezing the amount coming from publicly owned Crown land for five years.
Details are lacking – we don’t know the specific percentage of wood that private woodlots would provide to mills. But the government quite rightly sees this as an opportunity to spur economic growth in the private woodlot sector.
A CAUTIONARY TALE FOR THE GOVERNMENT
“For some reason, they have failed to see the private wood sector as a major part of the economic engine. We hope that will be different this time.
Then, just weeks after that announcement, the coronavirus reared its ugly head. It has wrought a sea change in our economy. No one is sure what the ultimate fallout will be or how long we could be gripped by recessionary effects. But many of us remember vividly and painfully what it was like the last time our world was shaken by recession in 2008 and we can only hope the New Brunswick government does not make the same mistakes in the forestry sector that were made then. In 2008, we saw how the downturn decimated the private woodlot sector and we have not recovered since.
We have, as the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, written to Mr. Holland to remind him about 2008 and the fact that he has the power under the Crown Lands and Forests Act to ensure the place of private woodlots in the wood supply picture.
It is a cautionary tale for the government. Crisis and instability in the marketplace have been used by industry, certainly in the post-2008 period, to insist on more access to cheaper Crown wood.
Governments understandably are frightened at the prospect of major mill closures but, for some reason, they have failed to see the private wood sector as a major part of the economic engine. We hope that will be different this time. We want assurances that there will not be a repeat of 2008 with its devastating diminishment of the role of private woodlots.
EMPOWER THE MARKETING BOARDS
As we have said many times, and will keep saying, equitable access to the market and fair pricing for woodlot owners will strengthen New Brunswick’s argument that countervailing duties on exports into the United States should be removed.
“All have roles to play and it does no one any good to throw one group under the bus in the belief that it will save another.
We also believe that all political parties would support a move to change the current legislation in such a way as to empower the marketing boards, should such a bill be brought before the legislature.
Forestry is key to the economic success of New Brunswick. Its many players, from big industry to small woodlot owners, all have roles to play and it does no one any good to throw one group under the bus in the belief that it will save another. As we hear so often these days, we truly are all in this together and that is how we can best find our way to recovery and prosperity.
Thank you for listening,
Rick Doucett President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners