Recently, the Leader of the Official Opposition, Jeannot Volpé suggested designating northern New Brunswick as a forestry hub. It’s an interesting concept and acknowledges the significant role forestry plays in many northern communities.
The concept of a forestry hub exclusive to northern New Brunswick, however, requires an explanation. Without details on all that a “northern forestry hub” entails, it appears to shortchange the larger role forestry plays throughout the entire New Brunswick economy. There are a number of people in communities spread across the province who depend on a healthy forest industry.
Without question the northern half of our province is home to a significant portion of our forest resources, but we need to guard against making forestry a regional industry that competes in a global marketplace. What has happened recently in New Brunswick with mill closures is both a human and economic tragedy that requires a carefully charted recovery plan that benefits every region and citizen of the province by giving our forest product industry a level playing field with North American jurisdictions that have a strong forest product sector.
Today, as in the past, when wood fiber is harvested it flows to mill operations in every direction throughout the province – north, south, east and west, supporting a highly integrated forest product cluster. Despite the recent challenges the forest industry is facing, there is still that need for that fiber to flow in all directions. Tying the movement of Crown wood to a specific region will further cripple an already ailing industry.
Mr. Volpé makes a strong case for maximizing our return from the forests by investing in new technologies, value-added operations and enhanced tourism and recreation opportunities. We couldn’t agree more – and to that end we need to inform New Brunswickers that a number of our mills have, and continue to invest in new technologies and value-added products. There are a number of success stories in the New Brunswick forest industry.
We have operations in northern New Brunswick producing hardwood flooring and quality paper products, and in the south we have mills producing quality tissue products, paper and flakeboard. In central and eastern New Brunswick we have a number of sawmills producing a wide-range of specialty wood products including quality, building materials. This is still going on despite the economic challenges of the day.
There is room to improve and new potential opportunities. Around the world, the forest industry and many levels of government recognize the importance of trees as part of the answer in the fight against climate change. The announcement last week by the federal government that forest management will be recognized is good news for woodlot owners, government and industry. At the same time, investments in productivity measures, emerging biofuel technology, alternative uses for pulp, and new wood products will also strengthen the future of this renewable cluster. These efforts require significant research and development and strong partnerships between all stakeholders. The economics of the day dictate this continuing investment needs to be accelerated and enhanced. Our mills are constantly searching new markets and new uses for wood as part of their planning for the future. It is one of ways they can compete and it makes good business sense.
If a forestry hub in northern New Brunswick is meant to imply limiting the flow of wood to specific regions of the province there is an inherent risk that every mill in New Brunswick will be severely limited in their operations with potentially crippling effects. We need to expand our vision and view the entire province as one “community” trying to compete in a global market. Even with this perspective the challenges are daunting, but not insurmountable, others regions of North America have rolled up their sleeves and found ways to compete. We can not give up the race.
We can move forward in these challenging times if we set the stage for an industry recovery. We need to address the issues affecting our competitiveness with a sense of urgency. Our mills energy rates are among the highest in North America. We need to find solutions that reduce these costs to provide a level playing field with mills in other jurisdictions. Even with significant investment in energy efficiency many of our operating mills are still facing unprecedented challenges in keeping their doors open.
High energy costs, when combined with high wood costs and a strong Canadian dollar are the ingredients that set the stage for the recent mill closures. While there is little a government can do about a strong dollar, there are specific actions that can be taken to reduce energy costs and high wood costs to bring our forest industry in line with the competition.
These are challenging times that call for new and creative thinking. The development of a forestry hub has merit – but rather than limit our potential to any one region, let’s look at the big picture and make all of New Brunswick a world leading forestry hub.
President and C.E.O.
New Brunswick Forest Products Association