Although forestry falls under provincial jurisdiction it is important to recognize the importance of this industry to all levels of government that also includes communities, local economies and the many working families who are supported directly and indirectly by forest sector jobs.
In Okanagan-Coquihalla, communities such as Merritt, Logan Lake and Okanagan Falls have long had direct ties with the forest sector while many important industry related support businesses are located in Penticton and West Kelowna/ Westbank.
For many years, Canada’s largest trading partner has been the United States and with the American housing construction boom slowing down, this in turn has reduced export demand and has resulted in mill closures as we witnessed locally at Okanagan Falls.
To further challenge the British Columbia forest industry, the pine beetle devastation has also reduced the available timber supply and recent mill tragedies have dramatically increased insurance costs for those mills still operating. In summary, there are a number of challenges within this industry as critics are generally quick to point out.
However while it is often easy to criticize, it is also important to recognize efforts underway to help support the forest industry.
Free trade agreements, although often opposed by some, open up new markets that British Columbia lumber manufacturers can access and this in turn, can help keep mills open and people working.
As an example of this, BC lumber exports to China exceeded $1 billion in revenue for the first time in history in 2011.
Exports to Japan have had similar success and more recently a wood export guide to India has been prepared for manufacturers.
The need to diversify Canada’s trading partners is a top priority for the Canadian forest industry as it is in many other industries.
However it is also important that innovation is not overlooked as another means to diversify and increase demand for our local value-added lumber producers.
This week I was excited to attend an important event as Structural Wood Products announced an expansion of the recently opened Okanagan Falls production facility.
This new expansion will allow for the construction of the new “Eco Structure Wall System” that consists of pre-fabricated engineered wooden wall structures made using the technology of the cross laminated construction method.
These walls are intended to be an alternative to conventional concrete “tilt-up” wall construction with the advantage of being lighter, stronger and also offering improved insulation qualities while being more energy efficient to produce and transport. For Structurlam, a company with 50 years of expertise and over 150 employees this is an investment that has a very bright future.
In Whitecourt Alta., Millar Western Forest Products is introducing an anaerobic hybrid digester that will convert pulp mill effluent to green energy.
This waste to green energy technology has the potential to be used in other mills to help reduce waste and lower long term energy costs.
In Meadow Lake Sask., the local Tolko Mill will soon become the first in North America to produce specialty orientated strand board products on a single production with enhanced quality controls.
These innovations are a few examples of Natural Resources Canada partnership projects under the Investment in Forest Industry Transformation Program . Although challenges in the forest industry remain, the need to proactively expand and diversify our value-added forestry sector are essential objectives that help support local economies and help create new and support existing jobs.
While we as a country continue to lead the G-7 in job creation and overall fiscal management it is also important to recognize this success does not happen by accident.
Through partnerships between industry and all levels of Government working proactively together to open new trade markets or increase innovation we can and will succeed.
Dan Albas is the MP for Okanagan Coquihalla.