There wasn’t necessarily a lot new in what Forestry and Agrifoods Agency Minister Chris Mitchelmore heard at an industry engagement event in Wooddale last week, but there is one matter he intends to make an immediate priority.
The minister said he heard lots about the limiting nature of the current Crown permit procedure. It guarantees access to timber for just one year.
He was previously aware of the issue.
“When I worked in private lending … one of my first actions was doing investment during the downturn (in the forest industry) in terms of a purchase of an harvester and it was difficult knowing that the harvester only had a one-year permit. That’s difficult to take to the bank and get financing.
“So, that is something that my team and I will look at in the very new future to look at if there’s anything that can be done to extend Crown permitting,” he said, noting it may require regulatory change.
“If we could, it would create an opportunity for companies that are out there that are in the harvesting business to look at a more long-term view, to look at financing, making investments to be more modern, and that would be a positive step for the industry as a whole.”
The engagement session at the Wooddale Nursery last Wednesday brought together various industry players — contractors, harvesters, sawmillers, pulp and paper, value added and service industry — from around this province. There was even one from as far away as New Brunswick.
The minister also held some one-on-one sessions for those who wanted to raise particular concerns.
“It was a great (time) to talk about issues and opportunities,” the minister said.
Look to the future
“Forestry is a renewable resource and it’s going to be around for a long time and I’ve been very passionate about it since I’ve been MHA,” he said. “I think I have an incredible opportunity as a minister and this was very encouraging see a variety of people so engaged and interested in forestry.”
The minister acknowledged the industry has been challenged by mill closures and a general downturn.
But he remains optimistic.
“Those that are remaining are here for the long run and they want to advance, they want to see investment in forestry,” he said. “They’re looking for opportunities to grow and I’m here to work with them to find new opportunities. We have a great fibre supply here in the province and we’re going to find measures to utilize it.”
Mitchelmore said he’d like to see industry players come together to help shore up a future.
“One of the things they stated is that they’d like to see is a strong forestry-oriented association and that could benefit them quite well,” the minister said. “We’ve seen it in the aquaculture where it worked well and in the tourism industry and look at the growth we’ve seen in that industry.
“If we had a broad association of harvesters — from pulp and paper to value added to sawmills — they have that opportunity to be more united and speak out on the issues and advance their cause,” he continued.
The minister said he was encouraged by the talks of research and development opportunities and looking at logistics for back haul.
“These types of things present new opportunities for our industry.
“Now that I’m the minister responsible for business as well it gives me an opportunity to collaborate more closely with forestry and forest operators and we’re really taking a team approach to how we can move things forward.”
“The Office of Public Engagement was involved so we have a good, documented, clear approach as to what the industry wants to see and we’re just getting started,” he said.