Government and stakeholders working co-operatively is the best bet for a forest industry recovering from the economic downturn, said Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
Log exports, fibre supply, a shortage of skilled labour and alternative products were some of the issues forest industry stakeholders and the minister discussed during a Vancouver Island regional tour.
Thomson, MLA for Kelowna-Mission, was in Nanaimo Tuesday following stops in Campbell River and Port Alberni.
“It’s an opportunity to meet with Island staff, get feedback on operations as well as meet with industry stakeholders and get a good sense of the key issues,” he said. “It’s all part of my learning process as a new minister.”
Thomson said he detects a sense of optimism from an industry that has come through the most significant downturn in its history.
“The important message I’m hearing, not just on the Island but around the province, is [stakeholders] are looking forward to the future and the work the province has done in developing new markets,” he said. “We’ve learned about and addressed the many challenges facing the sector in terms of being able to take advantage of the recovery.”
With recovery comes more jobs and Thomson said the forest sector and government will need to work co-operatively to meet the need for a skilled labour force.
The need for skilled trades is going to be a challenge in everything from mill operations and contractors to truck drivers, he said.
The issue of log exports to the U.S. were also part of the discussions and Thomson said there is a need for balanced policy.
“Log exports continue to play a critical role in the viability of the industry,” he said. “There is also a recognition we need to make sure the overall policy works and we continue to keep a focus on building capacity and value-added activity here in the province. That’s work we’re committed to working with the industry on.”
Thomson sees the U.S. housing market still not recovering as quickly as some initially had predicted or hoped, which shows B.C. must maintain its focus on developing markets with Asian partners.
The future also includes areas of innovation and alternative products. Maximum utilization of the forests, including bioenergy and value-added products, is needed, Thomson said.
“There is a recognition in both the industry and the community that it needs to be part of the agenda going forward,” he said.