OPINION: The Contradiction of Uncertainty and Investment in BC’s Forestry Sector
Yet again, the forest industry is caught in the cycle of those who oppose anything to do with forestry and logging are ramping up their anti-resource sector publicity. The ability for such protests to happen is a testament to our democratic structure; we should be thankful they can occur and we’re not stuck living in an autocratic dictatorship. So, kudos to those local community environmental groups expressing their desire for change; the TLA looks forward to continuing to work with them in forging our collective paths forward.
However, times have certainly changed. Technology and social media provide many new opportunities for some multi-national environmental groups to fabricate stories that in decades past were not possible in their battles to stop timber harvesting, further endangering BC’s precious resource communities. Today’s antics often see a decided lack of reasoned and balanced discussion and debate replaced with an escalated strategy of rhetoric and 15-second sound bites. The latest examples being some ENGO’s “failing report card” on the government’s handling of the old-growth logging issue, over dramatized multi-city protests, and the threat of a new “war in the woods” like never seen before. All very clever, but not really constructive.
These days call upon all of us to take a long hard look at how BC’s citizens want its forestry sector and economy to prosper. We will continue to speak out on the need to protect and enhance BC’s working forests as an absolute necessity. Without such assurances, any new business will be hard-pressed to make major investments in technology and productivity. And we will continue to speak out against a legislative and regulatory environment that is unnecessarily cumbersome and cost prohibitive, contributing to a decidedly stifling effect on our investment climate.
For investments to happen, requirements are relatively simple: assurance of supply, a stable regulatory environment, stable political climate, decent markets, and the potential to realize a reasonable rate of return are prerequisites for investment dollars in BC—or keeping them here. This includes logging contractors; they need stability, fair rates and certainty before investing their hard-earned dollars and continuing to support our resource-dependent communities. But this is nothing new, the TLA among others have been saying this for decades. The question is whether anyone is actually listening to these basic truths.
Herein lies the contradiction. Do the facts show concrete and real actions being taken by all levels of government to reduce these uncertainties? We hear well-crafted statements depicting actions taken, but frankly they really only represent, at best, tinkering on the edges. In fact, most of the conversations these days head in the direction of actually increasing costs and complexity. BC is already not competitive globally or even within Canada. In the next breath, we hear desires by all involved in the debate to have a reinvigorated forestry sector, more job creation, the move towards a high-value manufacturing sector, and, of course, the need for the sector generate more money in terms of taxes and provincial revenues. The contradictions are mind-boggling to say the least.
Are there difficult challenges facing the forest industry? Certainly. Is there a collective ability to work around them? Certainly.
If nothing else, the forestry sector has shown a remarkable ability to innovate, persevere and withstand the many changes and challenges that have confronted it over the decades. We’re not oblivious to changing public expectations for what needs to be done in the woods. Solutions exist that can address forest practices, climate change, sustainability, and increased diversity and investment in our businesses. It is not always as simple as a yes or no answer, as many anti-forestry groups suggest in their anti-logging narratives. But most of those solutions require a common vision about where we want to head as a sector and the absolute necessity for a working forest that will support such a vision.
Some solutions will also require all levels of government to rethink the stumpage and revenues they collect from the sector. To be blunt, it simply costs more to do everything that everyone thinks we need to do. Most of our costs are absolutely fixed. The only real variables are stumpage, taxes, and a cumbersome bureaucracy, which combined are the key drivers in keeping the sector non-competitive and are stifling the investment and innovation that government demands. And, of course, it constrains their potential for future increased downstream taxation revenue from their desires for a prosperous forestry sector.
So, why is all of this important to everyone living in BC? Because no matter how you slice it, the potential for the forestry sector to provide sustainable forest products, sequester carbon, and tackle climate change surpasses anything else out there. All of this from annually harvesting less than one-third of one per cent of BC forests among the world’s most independently certified forests. The 140,000 people directly or indirectly employed by the forestry sector along with the 140 resource communities—including Vancouver as the largest—certainly warrant more consideration than glib cliches by those opposed to forestry.
It’s time to move forward. The window to create that change in direction is hopefully in front of us. New political leadership and the potential for a revamped ministry that better supports the forestry sector might be the catalyst. Let’s work on a vision most of us can accept and create the certainty needed for real investment to happen.
Bob Brash, RPF, MBA
Truck Loggers Association