Still Dreaming – Honest Commentary On British Columbia’s Efforts To Grow Value-Added Wood Products Manufacturing

By David Elstone, Managing Director
The Spar Tree Group
May 12, 2024
Category: Opinion / EdiTOADial
Region: Canada, Canada West

Premier Eby and his Ministers Ralston and Mercier are often heard saying “more jobs from trees harvested” when talking about the BC forest industry. Such a phrase resonates easily with the public as a common-sense vision for the British Columbia forest sector, the essence of which has also become part of the NDP government’s official industrial policy for the forest sector. …What does “more jobs from trees harvested” mean to manufacturers (and their investors)? To be honest, absolutely nothing. It does not send a signal about surety and stability of fibre supply or about the province’s attitude on hosting conditions. More jobs is a nice political slogan, but sounds increasingly misguided as an expectation, especially when current forestry jobs are being lost in the thousands. As rational economic entities, manufacturers (small and big) do not strategize to increase jobs as an objective, rather they invest to minimize costs and maximize returns – sometimes that adds jobs and sometimes it eliminates them.

Efforts so far to promote value added manufacturing have largely been to help existing businesses to sustain themselves with equipment upgrades. A wave of widespread transformation has not occurred. Missing in efforts by the BC government has been the re-establishment of a predictable and affordable fibre supply – a situation that is only getting worse. …The BC government needs to collaborate to shed the reputation of being the highest cost forest products manufacturing jurisdiction in North America. If not addressed, mills will continue to close. Conversely, improved competitiveness will bring more jobs and if guided correctly, more higher value manufacturing. Just imagine if Premier Eby were to say, “hey we want more jobs from trees harvested by helping to create the most competitive and productive forest sector in the world!”… now that would change the conversation to one which the industry and its investors could relate.

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