Tories were asleep at the switch on forestry

In the long summer months, it’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement that our great local events have to offer.
From barbecues to pow-wows, baseball tournaments and fishing derbies, it’s easy to relax and take one’s eye of the bigger issues of the day.
While I greatly enjoy spending time at these events throughout the riding, my staff and I also are keeping a close watch on several national and international issues.
This week, I’d like to report on the newly-released forestry statistics for 2009 that were published by Natural Resources Canada.
First off, I would like to commend Natural Resources Canada for its well-constructed website and the significant effort it has put into helping the public understand what has been happening in the forestry sector over the past several years.
Among the many features on the website is a wide range of in-depth and sortable statistics. Recently, NRCan posted its statistics for 2009, which can be found at http://canadaforests.nrcan.gc.ca/statsprofile
These numbers track everything from industry productivity, trade, type of production, and jobs, both in Canada and in each of the provinces.
While the disclosure of this information is extremely valuable and appreciated from a public policy perspective, I must concern myself with the details. And for 2009 they are, in a word, catastrophic.
According to NRCan, the forestry industry accounted for 1.7 percent of Canada’s overall GDP in 2009, which is down from 1.8 percent in 2008, 2.2 percent in 2007, and 2.5 percent in 2006–the first full year of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
In dollar figures, the forestry sector contributed $19.88 billion to Canada’s overall GDP in 2009 compared to $30.16 billion in 2006–a net loss of nearly $11 billion per year.
There are, of course, plenty of reasons the forestry sector is struggling, some beyond the control of the federal government and others not. But there is no question the Harper government has utterly failed to pause, stop, or reverse the steep decline of the forestry sector since coming to power.
The fine print statistics also illustrate how this affects Canada’s labour market and our local forestry dependent economies.
In 2009, forestry-related economic activity directly employed 195,320 Canadians, which was down from 231,452 in 2008 and 272,029 in 2006. Here in Ontario, there were just 40,698 direct jobs in the forestry sector in 2009, which was down from 53,585 in 2008 and 65,725 in 2006.
So since the Harper government has come to power, Canada has lost 76,000 plus jobs in the forestry sector, including more than 25,000 forestry jobs in Ontario alone–most of which were in small towns throughout Northwestern Ontario.
Our federal government must own up to the fact that it was asleep at the switch as mill after mill in our small forestry towns closed, and companies like Fraser Papers, Buchanan Forestry Products, and AbitibiBowater were forced into various stages of bankruptcy under their watch.
The Conservatives must take note of what happened to the Canadian industry as the U.S. “black liquor” subsidy came into effect between 2007 and 2009, and they must prepare a swift response to the implementation of the newest U.S. forestry subsidy—the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, which came into effect in January of this year and is scheduled to run until 2015.
I will have a further update on the U.S. Biomass Crop Assistance Program in a future column, but I wanted to share with you the severity of the crisis that we still are experiencing in the forestry industry as evidenced by these newly-released statistics for 2009.
My NDP colleagues and I understand we need to diversify our economy in Northwestern Ontario, but we also believe we must defend our existing forestry operations from unfair U.S. subsidies and make smart investments to help the industry modernize and stay operational in order to protect the 40,000 plus families who still depend on the forestry sector in our small towns.

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