Final Cut: Pursuing balance
By Bob Brash
Government needs to support the industry to help drive Canada’s COVID-19 recovery
By Bob Brash
Sitting in my COVID-19-imposed home office, I contemplate what could be written for a national audience that gives justice to the hard-working men and women in the forest sector carrying out an essential service for our country.
Well, maybe the COVID-19 pandemic has caused all of us to pause, reflect on what we do and recognize that we should be proud of it. I’ve never personally second-guessed or felt any hesitation about the career path I’ve chosen and have always respected all of those working in our sector.
I’ve certainly never felt guilty about our industry and have always felt the responsibility that lies with making balanced decisions for the greater benefit of all. However, we all know there are many others with agendas that don’t really approve of our sector or that it even exists. Well, that doesn’t work for me.
Canada, more than ever, is going to depend upon the people in the forest sector (and other resource sectors) to help lead us through COVID-19 and toward economic recovery and prosperity. We certainly all support a vibrant tourism and service industry and its role as an economic driver, and hope they will recover sooner than later, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
Last time I checked, governments have been spending a tad over budget lately, so they are going to have to recover more revenues from somewhere. If they are going to rely on getting those revenues from the forest and other resource sectors, they will need to work hard on supporting our industry and, frankly, improving the overall business and investment climate to encourage the expenditures needed to continue to move our industry forward.
I can speak directly to the situation in British Columbia; more work is needed to reduce overall cost structures, increase revenues per unit of wood, and improve general prosperity. It’s very clear what is not needed: more regulation, more cost impositions, and indecisive support. And, we certainly cannot afford more taxation or fees; this would counter any long-term objective for wealth and job creation.
Fortunately, a lot of people and groups are increasingly recognizing the importance of the resource sector to our country’s well-being. There are several initiatives by like-minded people striving to bring a suite of policy recommendations to government representing broad coalitions of those in the resource sector. At the local level in B.C., initiatives such as the B.C. Forest Alliance and Forest Friendly Communities are getting the facts out to the public about our forests.
Recent independent reports continue to reaffirm Canada’s leadership in forestry in terms of sustainability, certification, product quality, and environmental considerations. In short, we’re continuing to do an exceptional job in our forests and should be proud of it.
However, others with decidedly different agendas continue to call for dramatic changes to fit their viewpoint of what’s needed – be it reducing harvest rates, enhancing planting programs, embracing eco-tourism, or converting all of our forests to carbon credits – and are using COVID-19 as one of the reasons for such changes. Speaking of carbon credits, good luck trying to decipher any comparative cost-benefit analysis between preservation and sustainable forest management. My napkin math suggests there is a magnitude of more economic benefit derived from long-term harvesting versus simply letting it sit. I’ve got an open mind and welcome any better math, but I doubt it’ll come since – heaven forbid – objectivity is part of any decision-making process.
Fortunately, those of us with some responsibility and balance in our life can view the world a bit more rationally. We are a resilient industry and we’ll make the necessary changes to adapt to climate change challenges, biodiversity, the desire for a different footprint on the landscape, and the inevitable increased allocation of forest tenure to First Nations and communities. For decades, our industry has been blessed with innovative and hard-working people that have met these challenges and will continue to do so.
From our perspective, we will continue to work with governments towards improving the prosperity of our industry. Our questions will be:
- Are any proposed policy and regulatory changes going to strengthen the overall forest industry and reaffirm the working forest landbase?
- Will the proposed changes enable businesses to be more prosperous?
- Will the investment climate be such that it promotes real, sustainable investment in our forest resource?
So, to all forestry workers, I encourage you to continue to be proud of the work you do in our forest sector. Advocate for the changes that make sense and don’t waste any of your energy on feeling guilty. I’m grinning just thinking of anyone who attempts such a tactic.
Bob Brash is the new executive director of the Truck Loggers Association in B.C. and has worked in the public, private, and First Nation sectors throughout his 45-year career.