September 10, 2020
For many of us, the latest New Brunswick election campaign feels like we’re about to start spinning once again on the hamster wheel of political procrastination.
Private woodlot owners in this province have been calling, for years, for legislated changes to the Crown Lands and Forests Act that will restore balance and fairness in the forestry sector and restore hope to private woodlot owners throughout New Brunswick.
There have been moments of promise and many more of disappointment, yet here we are in 2020 facing the prospect of starting over.
“The candidates seeking election in this campaign need to understand the role of the legislative branch of government and their role as potential legislators: they are responsible for making new laws and changing existing laws for the good of the province and its citizens.
The candidates seeking election in this campaign need to understand the role of the legislative branch of government and their role as potential legislators: they are responsible for making new laws and changing existing laws for the good of the province and its citizens. They are not there to sit on their hands and allow a blatantly distorted wood marketing system to continue sucking the livelihoods from woodlot owners.
In the last two years, it looked like there could be progress. The Higgs government promised to give private woodlots a larger share of the market to supply mills while freezing for five years the amount that can be taken from Crown land. It was a promise that needed to be backed up by changes in law, but that turned out to be a bridge too far with the sudden election call.
We need legislation guaranteeing the place of private wood in the system and allowing the marketing boards to do their job, which is to negotiate fair prices and fair delivery schedules.
Now a new government will be in place by the end of the month and we will be starting over. We may be facing a new minister who will believe that legislation isn’t really necessary and that all the players should be able to sit down at a negotiating table and work out an agreement.
It won’t work, it never has and it’s a huge waste of time. But it looks like that’s where we could be headed – back to square one.
We have written to all four political parties in this election, asking them to confirm their platform positions on the Crown Lands and Forests Act, the need for change and the place of private wood in the marketing system. All the parties were invited; only the Liberals and the Greens responded.
HERE’S THE LINK TO THE POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES: POLITICAL PARTY POLICY SURVEY 2020
Only the Green Party says that in its first 100 days of government it would “table legislation to amend the Crown Land and Forests Act to, at a minimum, implement the changes requested by the NB Federation of Woodlot Owners…We would also work with the NB Federation of Woodlot Owners to determine any other necessary changes to the Act to ensure that private woodlot owners have fair access to the wood market in New Brunswick."
Just to be clear, here are the main priorities of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners: 1. A LEGISLATED PLACE FOR PRIVATE WOOD, SO IT IS NOT A RESIDUAL SUPPLY BUT AN IMPORTANT RESOURCE
This will require reversing changes to the Crown Lands and Forests Act that disadvantaged private woodlot owners and gave more power to mill owners.
Woodlot owners need primary source or enforced proportional supply (a fixed percentage of the industrial use).
All private wood needs to be contracted through the marketing boards so that they can have meaningful negotiations with mills and manage the wood supply.
Crown land management should be done by an independent body that would manage on behalf of citizens for multiple values and return to the taxpayer.
2. LONG-TERM SILVICULTURE FUNDING
Long-term commitment to facilitate long-term planning
3. LICENSEE CONTRACTORS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO OPERATE ON PRIVATE LAND
Keeping licensee contractors from working on private land would increase confidence for private contractors and help to support the private contractor base.
“American countervailing duties on lumber have so far cost New Brunswick $227 million USD
The situation is dire. In the last six months, lumber prices have soared yet what private woodlot owners get for the wood that makes this lumber has remained the same, well below true market value. The punitive countervailing duties imposed by the U.S., ironically over its argument that this province has a market unfairly subsidized by industry’s access to cheap Crown wood, has pushed down the prices mills are willing to pay.
At any sign of market weakness or vulnerability, woodlot owners are routinely forced to take lower prices. But industry is painfully slow to share any increase they see when the market begins to rebound – another telling reason why we need marketing boards with strong powers to negotiate fair pricing.
The price of two-by-four lumber has climbed some $700 per thousand board feet to $1,200 per thousand board feet in the last year while the price woodlots owners received hasn’t moved upwards a cent and at times actually declined at some NB mills.
Stunningly, those American countervailing duties on lumber have so far cost New Brunswick $227 million US.
We have seen how quickly government can act when faced with the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake – this is also a crisis. And not just for woodlot owners but for a thriving forestry sector and for all New Brunswick taxpayers. We’re all paying the price for government inaction.
We need a government that is committed to action, to making the changes that are needed to bring back fairness in our wood marketing system. What we don’t need is a government full of legislators who are scared to legislate.
Thank you for listening,
Rick Doucett President, New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners