Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield is greatly encouraged that there’s an attentive ear on forest industry issues at Queen’s Park.
The Ford government’s plan to reach out to industry stakeholders and mill towns this fall to solicit their feedback in laying the groundwork of a growth-oriented provincial forestry strategy was called “fantastic” by the long-time northwestern Ontario politician.
Canfield will be a few months into his post-mayoral retirement by the time the roundtable reaches his hometown in early February, but the ardent supporter of the forest sector plans to be in attendance.
Sessions begin in Sault Ste. Marie on Nov. 15 with stops scheduled for Kitchener, Kapuskasing, North Bay, Thunder Bay, Pembroke, and Timmins before wrapping up in Hearst in mid-May.
“If you have the right people at the table and the government is serious about it, there are some real good opportunities,” said Canfield, who worked as a crane operator over a 32-year forest industry career.
Kenora is home to two forest products mills and Energy, Northern Development and Mines Minister, and Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford.
His cabinet colleague, Natural Resources and Forestry Ministry Jeff Yurek, is calling for a strategy that will “unleash” Ontario’s forest industry potential, an industry that annually generates more than $15 billion in revenues for Ontario’s economy and provides employment for 150,000.
"We are creating the conditions that help the forestry industry to innovate, attract investment and create jobs and prosperity for the North and for all communities that depend on the sector,” Yurek said in a Sept. 27 news release.
Canfield hopes the Ford government makes good on its campaign promise of cutting red tape by reducing “over-regulation” in the sector.
For the last decade, Canfield and other Northern leaders had been fighting an ongoing battle with the previous Wynne government’s campaign to activate the Endangered Species Act, a piece of pro-environmental legislation that industry supporters claimed would add costly duplication to the wildlife and habitat protections already included in the Crown Forest Sustainability Act.
Mayors and industry groups said it threatened forestry jobs and Northern communities.
The last government “dropped the ball” in consulting with Northerners, said Canfield, who often took issue that well-funded environmental groups held influence in shaping public policy that, he insists, was based more on "ideology than science."
Canfield countered that by working with FP Innovations, the federal forestry research arm, to deliver presentations across the North demonstrating that responsible harvesting is good for the boreal forest and actually fights climate change.
The answer, he said, is not setting aside more land for protection but building that protection into forest management plans.
“We live in a different world today. Nobody is out to destroy the environment by any means. We’re all environmentalists. It’s been overkill on rules and regulation, and there’s an awful cost to it.”
Canfield sees a myriad of new industry opportunities with the revisions to the provincial building code permitting taller wood-framed buildings, dovetailing on the movement in Quebec to construct more bridges made with wood, and even capitalizing on the worldwide trend to ban the use of plastic straws with a greener alternative.
On the research side, Canfield said Resolute Forest Products’ lignin extraction demonstration plant at its Thunder Bay pulp mill is investigating the production of green bio-chemicals derived from wood, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has done good scientific work in better understanding the woodland caribou in northwestern Ontario.
Yurek’s ministry has also been tasked with formulating how resource revenue sharing will work in the province, something all three major political parties committed to at the outset of the election.
Canfield said back in the early 2000s, he and Treaty #3 Grand Chief Leon Jourdain pressed for resource sharing, not just for First Nation communities but everyone within the treaty area. He suggests revenue gathered from stumpage could be funneled back into research and development, and used to fund forest access roads.
The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) applauded the government taking the initiative.
“Forestry is the backbone of many communities across the North and provides good paying jobs while encouraging biodiversity and the protection of wildlife habitats,” said FONOM president Danny Whalen in a statement.
“Ensuring that the sector remains competitive through a reduction in red tape while continuing to operate under the highest standards of sustainable forest management practices is to the advantage of all Ontarians.”
Past FONOM president and Kapuskasing Mayor Al Spacek will be participating in the roundtable.