Avrim Lazar, President and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) today called on governments to look beyond the current economic crisis in preparing Canada for what promises to be a more competitive, resource-hungry global marketplace of the future.

Speaking at the Public Policy Forum’s conference on “Rebooting the Economy”, Lazar underscored the need for governments to be forward-thinking in their approach to stimulating an economy in need of both immediate and long-term attention. Key to our success, he said, is the wealth of our natural resources and the creative, intelligent way in which we manage them.

“Using a good Canadian analogy – the hockey game – one can argue that simply reacting to the recession is like skating to where the puck was six months ago. Whereas preparing for future economic growth by dealing with issues that will really make a difference to our future competitiveness, is like skating to where the puck is going to be – strategically a much smarter play,” said Lazar.

Lazar laid out some clear actions for governments to take based on the experience of the forestry industry an industry while hard hit by the current recession, boasts a promising future:

  • Ensure access to credit: Even healthy businesses can’t survive without it. The federal government needs to act more aggressively on this front to implement measures announced in the Budget to provide more credit to businesses.
  • Counter black liquor subsidies – The Canadian government needs to act quickly to put in place an equivalent measure that will offset the impact of this US subsidy worth billions of dollars, and level the playing field for pulp producers in Canada.
  • Reward Investment and Help us Get Greener – The industry has invested heavily in research and development, sustainability and capital renewal – all critical components of preparing for future growth. But support from governments in these areas is woefully insufficient. Measures are needed that reward investment, innovation and R&D, especially during difficult times
  • Provide for a competitive national rail transportation system: The two national railways have monopoly power over many rural communities and are hiking prices during this recession to grow their already record profit margins. This is another area that hinders Canadian competitiveness. The federal government needs to end these abusive practices.
  • Modernize provincial wood policies – Provinces own most of the wood used in our mills. For too long they have managed the forest resource with an eye to short term politics rather than long term economic growth. (Quebec has among the highest wood costs in the world and antiquated wood allocation policies). Provincial policies must change quickly to allow economics, not politics, determine industry structure.

“For the forest industry, upon which 300 communities and close to a million workers directly and indirectly depend, this latest recession has been devastating. More than 50,000 workers have lost their jobs, and more than 200 mills have closed in the last two years alone,” said Lazar.

He noted that in times such as these there is most definitely a role for government. But what is needed is savvy government action that recognizes it’s no longer companies competing on the world stage, but entire economies struggling to shore up their competitive forces while identifying the lucrative markets of the future.

“Hewing wood and drawing water is once again the road to wealth in tomorrow’s economy. If we do this in an environmentally sound and technologically advanced way, we will position ourselves well to meet the post-recessionary demand for sustainably-produced, high-quality products,” said Lazar.

“For Canada this means going back to basics. Governments need to wake up to the possibilities that Canada’s natural resource industries like forestry, present. And they need to support them in such a way as to ensure they emerge from this recession intact and producing the most environmentally sustainable, cost-effective and technologically-advanced product possible,” said Lazar.

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FPAC is the voice of Canada’s forest producers nationally and internationally in government, trade and environmental affairs. Canada’s forest products industry is a $65-billion dollar a year industry that represents 11% of Canada’s manufacturing GDP. The industry is one of Canada’s largest employers, operating in hundreds of Canadian communities and providing almost 250,000 direct jobs across the country.

Lori Harrop
Executive Director, Environmental Reputation
Forest Products Association of Canada
(613) 563-1441 ext: 313