For more than two years now, we’ve been asking the government of New Brunswick to adopt straightforward solutions that would unshackle this province’s forestry sector and unleash its full economic benefits.
They are steps that, if adopted, would free up millions of dollars to flow through our communities and to fund public services.
Steps that could put an end to the punishing duties imposed by the U.S. on our softwood lumber.
Steps that would benefit not only private woodlot owners but all New Brunswickers.
Imbalance of power
There is an imbalance of power between hardworking woodlot owners and owners of mills in this province – and it is only getting worse.
The New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners has been asking the government to fix the imbalance through changes to provincial legislation – changes that would see the return of fair pricing, fair market access and fair dealing.
While we have seen unfair pricing, unfair market access and unfair dealing for years, what we see today is a stark illustration of exactly how unfair things have become.
The pandemic has created a boom in the sales of lumber as homeowners build and renovate, but woodlot owners are getting some of the lowest prices they have seen in many years for their wood.
So what can we do about that?
We need government to act.
For starters, we believe restoring fairness in the sector would put an end to the duties the U.S. has been imposing on our softwood lumber because the U.S. sees our market as partially subsidized by Crown wood.
These anti-dumping and countervailing duties have cost the forest industry in this province $379 million over the last four years, money that tends to get recouped by industry from consumers and from suppliers like our woodlot owners.
There is room for this provincial government to realize more money from Crown wood. It’s been suggested that the province has foregone as much as $100 million a year in revenues from Crown forests, and today the government could be collecting even more with the increased demand and rising prices for lumber.
This government can restore fairness to private woodlot owners.
From 2008 to 2018, they have lost close to $400 million in sales from reduced market share and depressed pricing.
Woodlot owners aren’t getting fair prices because previous governments have allowed industry to bypass marketing boards and strike their own deals, actively undermining the power of the boards to negotiate on behalf of all producers.
Previous governments have stood by and allowed the marketing board system to be undermined in a profound and crippling way.
This is the very system the province itself set up to ensure fair pricing, to ensure New Brunswickers are properly compensated for the work and investments made on their woodlots, and to ensure access to the available markets.
Foster growth for the people
The battle cry in this pandemic is “Support Local” – fostering growth in the woodlot sector does that.
Fostering growth in the woodlot sector would see more money flowing directly to ordinary New Brunswickers and into our communities.
By taking these measures, our own provincial treasury would have more money for health care, to care for our elderly in nursing homes, for schools, for mental health services.
This is money that can be used to reignite an economy hard hit by the pandemic.
Premier Higgs and Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland can make this happen by bringing in changes for the Crown Lands and Forests Act – changes that we’ve been suggesting since they came to office in 2018.
They’ve promised to restore fairness. They have the power to act. Now is the time.
Rick Doucett is the president of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners. This commentary was first published on the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners’ website.