Forestry can be one of Ontario’s greatest opportunities

By MPP Toby Barrett

Trees are a renewable crop – harvest, plant, and harvest again.

People’s opinions on the forestry industry vary, but perhaps they don’t know for every tree harvested, three take root. Over its 100-year history our local St. Williams Forestry Station has shipped something like two billion seedlings. Only 0.5 per cent of Ontario’s estimated 85 billion trees are harvested annually. This makes wood the only building material that is both renewable and recyclable.

Norfolk County has the highest forest cover in southern Ontario at 25 per cent. Overall Ontario is 66 per cent forested – most on Crown land.

The forest industry generates $11 billion of economic activity and provides jobs for 170,000 people in 260 communities. On the skills front, four high schools in northern Ontario have a forestry course. This could expand as students must be prepared for the jobs that exist today and tomorrow.

During all-party, pre-budget hearings in Dryden and Sudbury, just before Christmas, we heard the Ontario government needs to take a more balanced view on forestry. Creating and supporting our manufacturing/exporting industries create the wealth and taxes needed to support social and economic endeavours.

Testimony before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, included Resolute Forest Products, Domtar, Weyerhaeuser, White River, EACOM, and the Ontario Forest Industries Association.

A recurring theme was red tape within the industry. The Endangered Species Act, and in particular regulations for the wood turtle and caribou, has a huge impact on the industry. One suggestion was to harmonize approval processes, as forestry companies must operate under both the Crown Forestry Sustainability Act and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Creating ESA protection plans for species is at odds with the long-term healthy forest mandate of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act.

Enhanced support is required for the ongoing softwood lumber dispute with the United States and the appeal under the North American Free Trade Act. If President Donald Trump follows through on his promise to scrap or renegotiate NAFTA, it could make things worse for the industry. Ontario needs to stand with its lumber industry and the premier needs to develop a strong relationship with those negotiating.

Government is encouraged to make amendments to the building code to allow increased use of lumber and engineered wood products. A precedent has been set by Quebec, B.C., and Europe. One example mentioned was the 18-storey wood building at the University of British Columbia.

White River CEO Dr. Frank Dottori summed up the situation on Ontario’s energy, saying, “Most jurisdictions use energy costs for economic development, not to kill them.” This needs to change in this province where energy policy is driving industry out.

The forest industry isn’t without its critics. Many protectionist groups are constantly attacking it. In a similar vein to how they attack farmers, miners, hunters and anglers. However, according to an IPCC report, “in the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy will generate the largest sustained climate change mitigation benefit.”

Forestry has the potential to be a part of any carbon strategy in Ontario’s future, and sustainable harvesting of the forest supports climate change strategy. Wood used in construction sequesters carbon.

Ontario needs to reinvest in the economy, including a competitive forest industry. Focus on jobs, and the rest will follow.