The Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is disappointed in the public’s perception of the resource industry.
Minister Steve Thomson was in Campbell River Friday afternoon to speak to Chamber of Commerce members and guests and outlined some of the challenges the ministry faces going forward.
“Whether it is forestry, the salmon farming industry or other resource-based industry, those sectors have such an important contribution to the economy here in British Columbia,” Thomson told those assembled at the Anchor Inn Friday. “It really is – if you go back to the forest sector – it really is what the province was built on if you look at the history, and in my role, it really is about trying to ensure that we continue to have a globally-competitive forestry industry but also a competitive resource sector that continues to make that economic contribution.”
It’s also important, he said, “to make sure we do it in a way that is sustainable and that recognizes the importance of the environment to make sure that we continue to be – and that our resource industries continue to be – stewards of the resource.”
However, based on a recent survey, Thomson told those assembled, confidence in the resource sector from the public has definitely “slipped” since the last survey, which was done in 2004.
“It was a little disappointing to see the results of that survey work, because it showed that they weren’t as optimistic about the future of industry as they were when the previous work was done and they didn’t express a degree of confidence in the stewardship of the industry.”
Part of that lack of confidence, Thomson said, is because communication about the sector’s successes has been lacking.
Thomson said that, to be fair, since the last public opinion survey was done in 2004 the industry has weathered a significant downturn brought on by the collapse of the U.S. housing market, but added the industry as a whole, “has made a very strong recovery and is positioned for a very strong future. But when you have those kinds of concerns and results being expressed, it shows me that we need to do a much better job collectively about the successes and the work that’s going on in the industry, because, in my view, our industry is world-leading in terms of its stewardship work…as well as the jobs they are creating in our communities and the economic contribution numbers. Employment is up, export value is up. There are lots of positive indicators, so we need to communicate those more effectively.”
That’s not to say everything in the forestry industry is perfect.
“There are definitely some challenges in the sector and we need to acknowledge those and work collectively on them,” Thomson said.
One of the most common complaints he hears from those within the sector is the lack of available skilled workforce and the fact the workforce in the resource sector is aging. Another concern is making the industry more cost-effective, he said.
“We need to work on how we continue to drive costs in the industry to make sure we have a competitive industry and we’re doing lots of work on that as a ministry.”
He also discussed the ongoing worries surrounding the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S., which he said is “hanging over the head of the industry.”
Free trade, Thomson said, would be the best result of the ongoing negotiations with the U.S, “but that’s not going to be the case, given the approach of the U.S., so a managed trade agreement is something that we need to find to provide certainty and a base for the industry.”
If an agreement is not reached between the Canadian federal government and the U.S. by mid-October, Thomson said, the industry in Canada could be looking at some significant difficulties, “and I’m not going to be naive and say this isn’t a real challenge…but we remain optimistic. The door is opened and we need to work as hard as we can to make sure to get an agreement.”
That being said, the deal reached will have to be one that is actually good for the industry.
“We’re not just going to accept an agreement for the sake of getting an agreement,” Thomson told the crowd. “It has to be one that works for B.C., where 55 per cent of the softwood lumber production happens in Canada. We’re not going to accept a deal at any cost, and if we don’t get there, then we as a province, along with the federal government and our colleagues across the country, will have failed the industry.”
Thomson also went on to praise the work put in to get to an agreement in protecting the Great Bear Rainforest, including by one of the key players in that process, the Nanwakolas Council, which represents the interests of six First Nations in the region.
“To be able to have that certainty – to be able to protect so much of that unique area – was a really important step. It was a very, very significant achievement. It was a win for all parties, a win for B.C. and a win for Canada and it’s being recognized around the world.”
Next up on the Chamber of Commerce events calendar is the 4th annual summer barbecue, being held at the Enterprise Centre, 900 Alder Street, Aug. 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.