- Rick Doucett
THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE FOREST PRODUCTS COMMISSION
July 24, 2020
In his pledge to improve opportunities for woodlot owners in the province last year, Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland promised to examine the role of the New Brunswick Forest Products Commission.
“The commission has long failed to fulfil its duty to act as an effective intermediary
This was a welcome step. For years now, we’ve been deeply concerned. Not many folks know much about the commission and how it is supposed to operate, but we know all too well.
We’re concerned the commission has long failed to fulfil its duty to act as an effective intermediary between industry, government and woodlot owners. We aren’t the only ones – we’ll get to more on that in a moment.
GOVERNMENT MUST ACT
A creation of government and the overseer of the province’s private wood supply, the commission is supposed to be a referee – ensuring access to market and a process for negotiating reasonable prices.
“The commission is supposed to be a referee...It has clearly not been that referee.
It has clearly not been that referee. Consider that only a fraction of private wood in New Brunswick makes it to market and that the prices woodlot owners get for their hard work are woefully low.
So we were encouraged that Minister Holland and the Higgs government pledged to fix it. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting – not just for the reforms but any details at all with what the government plans to do.
This was announced in December – we’re now into the heat of summer. We understand that the pandemic has been a major focus, and the government has proved it can act quickly and decisively to deal with it.
ECONOMY IS SUFFERING
But there isn’t time to waste on these reforms either. New Brunswick’s economy is suffering. Unlike many other sectors, forestry was not forced to shutter. Indeed, pulp and paper became essential in dealing with the pandemic and now consumers are reporting shortages in lumber.
“Speaking volumes is the forest products commission’s refusal to meet with us.
We’re concerned that the government is now telling us they need new data on the flow of wood within the province today and into the near future. This is a needless delay – mountains of data already exist.
A healthy forestry industry is critical to our province.
Something is seriously wrong when the 42,000 private woodlot owners in this province are treated as second-class instead of being welcomed as partners in ensuring a stronger future for forestry in New Brunswick.
Speaking volumes is the forest products commission’s refusal to meet with us to discuss concerns and suggestions for how to improve the state of forestry in New Brunswick. So much for a fair and even-handed arbiter of the system.
TIME FOR FAIR PRICES
Consider that we haven’t been able to fetch a fair price in years as the commission, under successive governments, has allowed big forestry companies to take a bigger and bigger share of the Crown forests at cheap prices, and has allowed those same companies to make an end-run around the marketing boards that are in place to ensure fair pricing.
“The commission needs to look at wood flow – we should not see lower prices for private wood because someone took it upon themselves to fill their yard with Crown wood
The commission is not using its broad powers to ensure a fair, balanced timber market where private wood resources are optimized. Instead, industry routinely goes around, rather than through, the marketing boards.
Some of the current problems are caused by direct contracts and by industry’s ability to manipulate their inventories to drive prices down or shift markets altogether. The commission needs to look at wood flow – we should not see lower prices for private wood because someone took it upon themselves to fill their yard with Crown wood. That should never happen.
NEW BRUNSWICKERS PAYING THE PRICE
The oversupply of timber from Crown lands has allowed U.S. officials to claim market distortion, leading to punitive duties and tariffs. In the face of millions of dollars in U.S.-imposed penalties, the provincial government insists that New Brunswick has a fair lumber market. Much to our chagrin, it does not. All New Brunswickers are paying the price for that.
“The provincial government insists that New Brunswick has a fair lumber market. Much to our chagrin, it does not.
Established in 1971, the commission has broad authority under the Forest Products Act and the Natural Products Act to investigate production costs, recommend prices, act as a conciliator, arbitrator, and adjudicator, and “conduct inquiries into any other matter related to primary forest products.” One of its main objectives is “to encourage and facilitate the optimum utilization of private woodlot resources.”
We aren’t the only ones left to wonder why it hasn’t been doing this. The government-commissioned Private Forest Task Force report noted that the commission has the potential to be the province’s most important organization for providing market information and resolving disputes about prices and market share.
POTENTIAL ‘LARGELY UNFULFILLED’
“However,” the task force report states, “its potential is largely unfulfilled.”
“Every day that goes by under a broken and dysfunctional system costs all New Brunswickers.
As well, Auditor General Kim MacPherson has highlighted serious “deficiencies” in the private wood oversight functions of both the commission and the provincial government’s natural resources department.
This is a curious case. Why, one wonders, is this happening? It may well be that the commission does not have the right resources, processes and people in place.
It would seem the government agrees.
“The government will evaluate options to refocus the New Brunswick Forest Products Commission to ensure its purpose and powers are implemented and well-functioning,” Minister Holland announced last December in unveiling his intentions to give private woodlot owners a larger role in the forestry industry once again.
“Our government’s vision is to have private woodlot owners active in the management of their property, committed to long-term sustainability, viewing their woodlots as assets and proud to be involved in forestry in this province,” he said. “Forests are part of our heritage and we want more people participating in forest management. This will be good for the forest and the economy.”
We could not agree more, so let’s get moving. We don’t need more bureaucracy and delay – we need action. We need fairness. Every day that goes by under a broken and dysfunctional system costs all New Brunswickers.
Thanks for listening,
Rick Doucett President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners