Government of Canada Supports Innovation in Forestry


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Good morning everyone and thank you all for being here at this early hour.

I want to recognize that we are meeting on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.  Long before there was a lumber industry in a place called Bytown, the Algonquin lived in - and were part of - the forests of this region.

We are also in one of the most storied and beautiful buildings in Ottawa – a place where Parliament met following the fire that destroyed Centre Block on a bitterly cold night in 1916.

At the front of this building is a spectacular glass tower, known as the Queen’s Lantern.  It’s a modern addition to an old building, a nod to the future, built on the past.

I mention all of this not only to impress you with my knowledge of local architecture, but because it strikes me that this is a perfect venue for a discussion of Canadian forests around the theme “Our Heritage, Our Future”.

For 150 years, forestry has been woven into the sinews of our country, defining us as a nation and shaping us as a people.  Today, it is a creator of jobs, a driver of innovation and a vital part of our balance of trade.

The past year hasn’t been the easiest one for forestry.

Last year’s fires in Fort McMurray destroyed nearly 600,000 hectares, forcing 88,000 people from their homes.  And this summer, British Columbia faced the largest wildfires in its history, leading to the declaration of a province-wide state of emergency.

These tragedies – and the risk of their increasing frequency due to climate change – reinforces the importance of the work this council did last year in Dawson City to renew the Canadian Wildland Fire Strategy.

Forest fires are not just a forestry issue, they also affect public safety, public health and Indigenous communities.  In the face of such a threat, it’s essential that we bring the best science, the most effective tools and the greatest possible collaboration to prevent - or mitigate - its impact.

This year we’ve also seen the devastation wrought by insects, with infestations that have destroyed thousands of hectares of forests across the country, from Hinton, Alberta, to Baie-Comeau, Quebec.

And if nature didn’t provide enough bad news, we got more from our neighbour, with the United States imposing unfair and punitive duties on Canadian softwood.

And yet…

As is so often the case, the worst of times brought out the best in people.  Through hardship and challenge, we were reminded of the simple truth that lies at the heart of our country: Canada works best when Canadians work together.

We saw it in Canadians rallying around the residents of Fort McMurray and British Columbia, with donations of money, food and clothing.  Thousands of individual acts of caring and kindness.

And we saw it in how governments came together through the Federal-Provincial Task Force on Softwood Lumber.

One of the more interesting quirks of our constitution assigns natural resources to the provinces, but trade and commerce, to the federal government.

Which means that we have to work together. Draw on one another’s strengths.  Creating something greater than we could separately.

The Task Force was a terrific example of that and augurs well for the future of the federal-provincial relationship.

Through the Task Force, we shared information about how best to help affected workers and communities.  And we arrived at a comprehensive Action Plan.

All told, our government is investing $867 million to provide:

  •  loan guarantees for industry, through the Business Development Bank and Export Development Canada
  • access to the Work-Sharing program, to help employers and employees supplement incomes
  • funding to provinces to help workers find new jobs, with top ups of their income as they make the transition
  • new resources for the Indigenous Forestry Initiative to support Indigenous participation in economic development
  • extensions of the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT) and Forest Innovation Programs and
  • access to the Expanding Market Opportunities Program, to reach new markets and expand the use of wood construction.

So yes, a tough year, but also one when we rediscovered old strengths and sought out new opportunities.

Today’s Forum and the next few days’ meetings, continue in that same spirit.

We’ll explore engagement with Indigenous peoples, the role of forestry in the bioeconomy, opportunities to diversify our markets, combat climate change and manage the habitat of caribou and other species at risk.

Let me just briefly touch on each of these.

First, engaging with Indigenous communities.

We’re honoured to have so many Indigenous leaders with us today and many have spoken to me of the central role forests play in the lives of Indigenous peoples – culturally, spiritually and, increasingly, economically.

Some 70 percent of Indigenous communities are located in forested areas and more than 9,000 Indigenous people are employed in the forest industry.

In recent years, Indigenous communities have increasingly become direct owners of the resource - almost doubling their share of tenure volume.

This is generating revenues that flow back to their communities to support schools, housing, transportation and economic development.

NorSask Forest Products is an outstanding example.  Owned by the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, it supports social programs, employment and infrastructure in the nine communities it represents.

By integrating the local community in decision-making, it has grown to become one of the largest Indigenous-owned sawmills in Canada.

As we look ahead to the fall and the review of environmental assessments, Indigenous involvement will be critical.  Forestry has done an outstanding job engaging Indigenous communities and we need to bring that same spirit and approach to how we develop all of our resources.

Second, Canada’s forest industry has done a remarkable job transforming itself in recent years: expanding its product lines and broadening its markets. 

Today, wood fibre is being used in ways that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago: strengthening composite car parts, making vehicles lighter, reducing emissions and replacing plastics and chemicals made from fossil fuels.

These new products open new markets, including China, where exports of our wood products have grown by more than 25 times since 2002.   Softwood exports by 30 times over that same period.

In June, I had the pleasure of leading a delegation of Canadian Indigenous and business leaders to China, drawn from virtually every region.  I see some of you who were part of that delegation here today.

One of the highlights of the trip was our tour of the eco-district in Tianjin - a community built entirely with Canadian lumber.   This project can be replicated across China, which means the demand for Canadian wood and Canadian expertise could skyrocket in the years ahead.

The Softwood Action Plan also provided significant funds for innovating the industry and growing its markets.  All told, some $163 million is available through the Expanding Market Opportunities, IFIT and Forest Innovation Programs.

These investments mean that companies can aggressively pursue new markets and drive deeper into existing ones.  

They also create opportunities to expand wood construction here at home. Budget 2017 provided $40M for increasing the use of wood in Canada, particularly tall wood construction – an area where we lead the world.

Today I am pleased to invite new proposals for funding the next wave of innovative, first-in-kind technologies under the IFIT program. With an additional $55 million under Canada`s Softwood Lumber Action Plan, we are helping to solidify Canada`s position as a leader in forest industry transformation and the bioeconomy.

Third, and more important than ever, the forest industry is playing a key role in combating climate change.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say that there can be no global solution to climate change without the forest sector.

It’s that essential.

Because forestry is unique among resource sectors in that it actually involves a resource that takes carbon out of the air.

The industry is also developing clean technologies, producing green energy, reducing its need for energy and water and lowering both emissions and waste.

While Canada’s overall greenhouse gas emissions were rising between 1990 and 2012, pulp and paper mills were actually reducing their emissions by an impressive 66 per cent.

No area holds greater potential for this industry than the emerging bioeconomy.

Tomorrow, Ministers will endorse a Forest Bioeconomy Framework, the product of a year-long engagement with provinces, industry, academia and Indigenous groups.

This Framework offers a compelling vision and a clear goal: to make Canada a global leader in developing forest biomass And few countries are better placed.  We have the most biomass per capita in the world and almost seven percent of the global bioenergy potential.

The bioeconomy offers a tremendous opportunity to create more jobs, engage with Indigenous communities, forge new partnerships, develop new supply chains and build a new industry.

Its time has come and Canada must lead the way.

Fourth, we’ll examine the importance of protecting species at risk, especially the caribou, an important species that relies on the sustainable management of our forest species.

Caribou are found across Canada, including in the boreal forest from Yukon and British Columbia to Labrador and its recovery requires an unprecedented commitment from all of us.

In July, Environment and Climate Change Canada released an action plan to protect the boreal caribou and we’re now receiving feedback from industry, Indigenous groups as well as provinces and territories.

Our government is establishing a National Boreal Caribou Knowledge Consortium, a broad-based science advisory committee with the goal of restoring this iconic species and ensuring its preservation for generations to come.

I recognize the challenge this will be.  For industry.  For Indigenous groups. For governments.  But it’s important that we get this right.

A busy agenda, with lots of important issues to consider.

Yes, this past year has been a challenging one for the forest industry.  But let’s not lose sight of the enormous progress made or the exciting opportunities ahead.

Over the past decade, this industry has transformed itself. Embracing innovation.  Inventing new technologies.  Creating new products.  Enhancing its competitiveness. And developing new business models.

Our Government believes in this industry and sees it playing a central role in some of the most important issues of our time:  combatting climate change, driving innovation, expanding trade, supporting biodiversity and creating middle class jobs and economic opportunity for rural and Indigenous communities.

Forestry may be steeped in our history but it’s also vital to our future.

Indeed, its best days are still ahead.

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