Workforce implications of innovation in Canada’s Forest Sector

On May 4th, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources  released its report,    Value-added products in Canada’s forest sector : cultivating innovation for a competitve bioeconomy . The report  is the latest discussion of  advancing Canadian value-added forest products and a forest-sourced bioeconomy, and addresses five themes: (1) protecting Canadian forests and primary resources (which recognizes the threats of climate change and beetle infestation); (2) advancing industrial integration, innovation and talent development; (3) strengthening partnerships with Indigenous peoples; (4) maximizing market opportunities in Canada and abroad; and (5) a case study on building with wood, with a focus on advanced mass timber construction.

Discussion of the issue of training and talent development (beginning on page 18), calls for  more internships and employment opportunities for engineering and science students and highly trained post-graduates;  the need to develop a well-educated forest-sector workforce in rural areas; and the need for diversity and gender equity.  Employment implications are present in the discussion of wood-based construction of homes, where witnesses talk about transforming wood construction from a craft-based industry to a more mainstream manufacturing process, where “prefabrication in a factory environment would make wood construction more cost competitive and less wasteful, with greater potential for automation, customization and design accuracy.” The report also provides a case study of two Canadian examples of “tall wood buildings”: including Brock Commons, a new 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia , and Origine, a 13-storey building in Quebec City’s Pointe-auxLièvres eco-district.

The United Steelworkers , who represent over 18,000 forestry workers after their 2004 merger with the  Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA), presented a Brief to the Committee in November 2017.  The Brief identifies  the main challenges facing the sector, as low harvest volumes, insufficient infrastructure funding, and decreasing raw log exports, and concludes  that, although it’s a provincial jurisdiction,  “The Steelworkers submit that Canada needs a national forestry strategy that recognizes while the challenges within the lumber, pulp, paper, or value added sector are unique, … the whole sector is highly integrated, and dependent on each facet of the sector succeeding. “  The Brief also states  “The costs that the industry as a whole faces will further increase with the federal government’s plan to roll out a $50/tonne price on carbon by 2022. This new carbon pricing regime will not only risk further impacting tight margins in regions like Ontario, but also risks leading to carbon leakage. Canadian companies are now operating in the southern USA which does not have a carbon pricing regime.”

Unifor, which represents approximately 24,000 forest workers, also issued a report (not submitted to the Committee)  in October 2017:  The Future of Forestry: A Workers Perspective for Successful, Sustainable and Just Forestry .  A key message from Unifor is the need to involve workers in a in  a national  policy-making process: “forestry ministers must lead efforts to bring together business, government, labour, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and community leaders in a reinstated National Forestry Council.”  Also on this topic, a 2017 report by the Innovation Committee of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers,  A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada . 

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