The man who would be premier, Gordon Campbell, has excoriated NDP forest policy promising to establish a forest land base…

The man who would be premier, Gordon Campbell, has excoriated NDP forest policy promising to establish a forest land base while urging Forest Minister David Zirnhelt to pay the taxes owed by “deliberately misled” recipients of FRBC Forest Worker Transition Program money. Speaking at the truck loggers annual convention last week in Vancouver Campbell called Forest Renewal BC “the forest industry¹s fast ferry fleet.” He promised to scrap the increasingly discredited corporation if that is what the forest industry wants.

Campbell was more certain about the fate of New Forest Opportunities Ltd. saying it would be among the first fatalities under a Liberal government bent on dismantling the bureaucratic and regulatory burden besetting the beleaguered B.C. forest sector.

“We want a silvicultural industry that is competitive. We want to maximize every dollar spent on the land base,”said Campbell.

Citing recent figures describing the decline of the forest sector in British Columbia Campbell declaimed the fact that half of the recent sawmill closures in the U.S. and Canada took place in this province, while at the same time 46 new mills have opened in Eastern Canada.

Promising a results-based Forest Practices Code he said the province needed certainty around the forest land base. “In the same way we are setting land aside for parks and protected areas we need to set land aside for the working forest.”

Campbell opened his speech by commenting that this was the first time he had spoken to the Truck Loggers’ convention. His scathing remarks indicting the NDP’s culpability around the dismal performance of the B.C. forest sector and the profligate waste of corporations like FRBC drew rounds of applause from the audience.

Decade’s dismal forest decline documented by COFI

Perhaps to avoid repeating the same story too often the Council of Forest Industries has tried to put some positive messaging on its latest set of depressing figures on the B.C. forest sector by emphasizing B.C.’s economy can achieve new heights if government constraints on the wood industry are lifted. However, the PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by COFI tactfully named “Unrealized Potential,” might have been titled, “The B.C. Forest Industry: A Dismal Decline.”

In spite of the euphemismistic name the study¹s facts speak bleakly of an industry that has haemorrhaged billions over the past few years and taken the provincial economy with it. With profits exiting the B.C. forest sector between 1995 and 1998 the report shows the province¹s wood business out of step with the rest of Canada¹s healthier forest economies. Had the province kept pace with the rest of the nation net earnings in B.C. would have been $4.1-billion higher the report stated.

The study keeps up the grim analysis documenting the various cost gaps between B.C. and its Canadian competitors and the disastrous impacts these have had on investment and profits in the province¹s forest sector. But the most telling figures show the direct correlation between forest industry profitability and B.C.¹s economic growth. Looking back over the decade the varying fortunes of the forest sector are mirrored almost exactly by the provincial GDP; a fact that COFI insists is not a coincidence.

“You can’t hammer the province’s forest industry and expect the rest of the economy to get away with it,” said COFI President Ron MacDonald.

Citing higher fibre costs resulting from increasing regulation, stumpage, and access difficulty as the main problem afflicting the industry and making it non-competitive Macdonald said his members have a vision for change that will restore the forest sector. Some of that vision includes concessions from government as well as an increase in the allowable annual cut.

But government taxes and regulation are not the only problems according to MacDonald. “During the recent provincial government forest policy review process, narrowly-focused special interest groups called on government to impose massive change in our forest sector that would shrink forestry, kill jobs and destabilize communities. They want to substantially reduce the size of the industry by reducing the AAC,” said MacDonald.

For their part environmental groups aren¹t buying MacDonalds story. The Sierra Club insists COFI¹s analyses are one-sided and misleading and any increase in the allowable cut will cost the province millions in damage to watersheds and lost opportunities in other sectors such as fishing and tourism. The environmental groups criticizes COFI for not using full cost accounting in its projections and exaggerating the number of employees benefitting from the forest sector. The Sierra Club wants to establish an independent science panel on forestry to review forest policy in the province.