April 29, 2021
I’m watching with keen interest what is unfolding in neighbouring Nova Scotia, which is moving to enshrine in provincial law a preference for wood on private woodlots. This is a progressive step for that province to establish real fairness in forestry.
“The changes in Nova Scotia show that when a government understands that change is in the best interests of its province, it can and must act.
Bill 9 is an amendment to Nova Scotia’s Crown Lands Act requiring “that forestry leasing and licensing on Crown lands provide equitable stumpage rates, provide adequate investments in forest improvements and establish an overall preference for timber produced on privately-owned land.”
We used to have legislative language similar to that in New Brunswick, and when that disappeared, a huge inequity was created that has led to the issues that we see today.
The original Crown Lands and Forests Act in this province stated clearly that private woodlots were to be the primary source of wood and the publicly-owned Crown forests were to be no more than a residual supplier.
But over the intervening years, that equation has been altered to allow industry to plunder our Crown forests at bargain royalty rates while sidelining private woodlots and denying us fair market access.
Despite the fact that the forestry industry is booming in New Brunswick these days, royalty rates paid to the province for timber cut on Crown land haven't gone up since 2015.
UNFAIR PRICING, UNFAIR DEALING
We have been asking the government to fix the imbalance through changes to provincial legislation – changes that would see the return of fair pricing, fair market access and fair dealing.
“The taxpayers of New Brunswick are being cheated as the government leaves millions on the table it could collect from higher royalties.
While we have seen unfair pricing, unfair market access and unfair dealing for years, what we see today is a stark illustration of exactly how unfair things have become.
Lumber and construction industries have experienced soaring demand since last spring when the COVID-19 pandemic spurred a renovation and building frenzy.
But not only are private woodlot owners being shut out of the bounty, the taxpayers of New Brunswick are being cheated as the government leaves millions on the table it could collect from higher royalties.
Premier Blaine Higgs earned the support of many of New Brunswick’s private woodlot owners back in 2018 when he promised to review the Crown Lands and Forests Act with the objective of making it better for taxpayers and fairer for private woodlot owners.
IMBALANCE OF POWER
There is an imbalance of power between hardworking woodlot owners and owners of mills in this province – and it is only getting worse.
“There has to be a limit on government kowtowing to the demands of industry. There has to be balance and fairness — both of which are sorely lacking in New Brunswick.
The pandemic has created a boom in the sales of lumber as homeowners build and renovate, but woodlot owners are getting some of the lowest prices they have seen in many years for their wood.
We’re still waiting for the improvements Premier Higgs promised and his government now says it’s tough to make the kind of legislative changes needed to fix forest policy. This is where they should take a close look at the Nova Scotia amendments – all of one page. Really, it isn’t all that complex or difficult.
The changes in Nova Scotia show that when a government understands that change is in the best interests of its province, it can and must act.
There has to be a limit on government kow-towing to the demands of industry. There has to be balance and fairness -- both of which are sorely lacking in New Brunswick.
Premier Higgs certainly is aware that industry is making big money these days. He was recently quoted in an article published in The Telegraph-Journal that high level talks are underway with the Biden administration over ending the softwood lumber dispute.
NO ACTION IN NB
According to the article, Premier Higgs says now is the best time to end the standoff since the industry on both sides of the border is in its best shape in years.
“We all know that it was the increased share of Crown wood available to industry in New Brunswick that led to the border tariffs in the first place, and that is the problem that must be corrected.
“I’m hoping for a new position from the new administration in the U.S.,” Higgs told the newspaper. “I think the timing is right, prices are high, (the industry) is making money. I think it could happen now and no one could even blink.”
Of course, we all know that it was the increased share of Crown wood available to industry in New Brunswick that led to the border tariffs in the first place, and that is the problem that must be corrected.
But we are still not seeing the legislative and policy corrections needed to fix the fundamental problems in our forestry sector.
Looking again at the situation in Nova Scotia, it must be noted that market prices for timber in the province remain significantly higher than in New Brunswick.
Recently, for instance, the mill price for stud wood in Nova Scotia was $209 a cord ($93 per tonne) compared to $149.33 a cord ($66.50 per tonne) in Sussex, N.B.
GIVING OUR WOOD AWAY
There is more competition for wood in Nova Scotia and prices are more market-driven. In New Brunswick, we are just giving our wood away.
“The bottom line is this: The Higgs government is reluctant to do what the government of Nova Scotia is willing to do in ensuring that private woodlot owners are treated fairly.
The bottom line is this: The Higgs government is reluctant to do what the government of Nova Scotia is willing to do in ensuring that private woodlot owners are treated fairly.
We have had successive governments in New Brunswick tell us there’s no way to legislate our way out of this mess.
But Nova Scotia is showing that legislation does have a purpose and they’re moving forward with it.
It’s refreshing to see a government that understands its purpose and is ready to use that power to make needed change.
Thank you for listening,
Rick Doucett President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners