Past and Present
The history of Canada’s industrial development can be told through the history of our forest industry.
November 30, 2012 By David Lindsay
From the 1700s, when the British empire used Canadian white pines to build its mighty navy and Halifax became an important port for shipbuilding and ship repair, to the 1800s, when wood helped build the railways and our growing newsprint industry fed the burgeoning U.S. market, to the 20th century when forest battalions helped the Allies during the Second World War, and into post-war prosperity with the exploding suburban demand for 2 x 4s, the story of forestry has largely paralleled the history of Canadian industrial policy.
Call me a romantic, but the importance of the forest products industry throughout Canadian history is one of the reasons that I recently decided to take on a new position as the president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC), a job that was once referred to as Canada’s lumberjack-in-chief. However, that lumberjack in a plaid shirt navigating logs down the river – like the picture on the old paper one-dollar bill – is no longer the face of the forest industry. Those Monty Python skits about forest workers singing, “I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK,” do not apply today.
I am proud to be joining a green, renewable, high-tech 21st-century sector at a time when the sector has embraced satellite imagery, nanotechnology and the development of innovative products made from wood fibre including clothing, cosmetics and car parts. There is no doubt that the forest industry is now taking its place in the latest incarnation of Canadian industrial policy – the new post-carbon bioeconomy.
Today’s forest products industry in Canada is revitalizing itself in a fashion that once again reflects trends in the greater Canadian society. To do so, FPAC has set up the ambitious goals of Vision2020 to help the sector reach its future potential in the area of people, performance and products.
Our people goal is to recruit an additional 60,000 peopleby 2020. This mirrors what is happening in Canadian society in general with its aging demographic and a shortage of skilled labour. Along with attracting youth, we intend to build a modern workforce that includes women, aboriginals and new Canadians.
Then there’s environmental performance. The global marketplace has become increasingly sophisticated and demanding, preferring products that are “green” and renewable. The Canadian forest products industry has world-leading environmental credentials: it has more third-party certified forests than anywhere on the planet and more than a 70% cut in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, and it is working together with environmentalists in the landmark Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. The industry is now pledging to go even further and cut an additional 35% of its environmental footprint by 2020 to shore up its market advantage.
The industry has also set a target to produce an additional $20 billion in economic activity by 2020 with new markets and new products. The industry is leading the way in diversifying its markets away from dependence on the U.S. market and is now Canada’s No. 1 export to Asia. And we also want to lead the way in innovative products made from wood fibre – many of them biochemicals and biomaterials that will replace materials now made from fossil fuels. The forest industry is positioning itself to be a dynamic player in the new post-carbon economy.
From masts for wooden ships in the colonial era to modern-day car parts and jet fuel made from wood, the forest products industry continues to grow along with our great country as a source of jobs and prosperity well into the future.
David Lindsay is president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada.
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