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Canadian softwood lumber industry is strong, despite challenges, says industry head

Despite trade bluster from the United States, and possible changes to species at risk legislation, it's a bumper time for softwood lumber.
EACOM photo

It's the heart of Northwestern Ontario's forests and its economy.

Canada's softwood lumber industry may be facing challenges on both sides of the border, but it's still going strong, says an industry leader. 

Strong enough that an $867-million federal softwood lumber assistance fund, announced in May, hasn't even been used.

“We’re seeing a lot of innovation in terms of the biomaterials and biofuels, so we think that holds a lot of promise for Northwestern Ontario,” said Forest Products Association of Canada CEO Derek Nighbor during a recent visit to Thunder Bay. 

Nighbor, who on Dec. 6 spoke at a Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce luncheon, talked about challenges facing forestry nationwide.

Across Canada, there are fewer young people going into the business and the ongoing softwood lumber dispute with the United States is still a concern.

Nighbor said foresters aren’t certain if the market will stay strong and are focusing on diversifying both products and markets.

“We also want to make sure we’re getting into product areas that are products of the future,” Nighbor said.

“Supporting mills that need to transform and invest in their business, so they can produce materials, but the other part is growing the markets out there. How do we get more product to China or other markets, so we’re not so dependent on the United States?"

Many people at the Chamber event were concerned with possible changes to species at risk legislation that could affect industry supply.

Chamber president Charla Robinson said the Ontario government is going back for more consultation, a move that's being welcomed.

“Now we're just trying to see they understand the Northern views, and getting the Northern voice, instead of a small section of a certain demographic that's commenting on that legislation and regulation that will have a significant impact on our community,” Robinson said.