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Industry prominent in Ontario's new forest strategy

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email rlipman@wmc-cfb.ca
It is always good to know your industry is important and on the radar of the government’s agenda.  
With the backdrop of COVID-19 and its impacts on the economy and on Canadians, the forest industry, including wood manufacturing, is on the minds of governments across the country. The employment and economic benefits are appreciated and recognized. In August, the province of Ontario launched its new strategy, with the release of its report “Sustainable Growth: Ontario’s Forest Sector Strategy”.   
It should be noted that during the pandemic, the Ontario forest sector was recognized as essential, in order to produce and deliver critical products. These included building materials, food, hygiene and medical supplies, packaging and shipping products and paper towels etc. The sector also provided important raw materials used in the production of personal protective equipment (PPE), like gowns, masks, filters etc.  In Ontario, there are 71.1M hectares of forest; forests cover some 66% of the province.  
This represents 17% of the nation’s forest and 2% of global forests. Statistics for Ontario’s forest industry (2018 annual) are included in the report, showing a $4.3B contribution to the provincial GDP and $18B in total revenue of the forest sector. The sector’s exports are valued at $6.7B; including $869 M in wood furniture exports and over 72.5M trees were planted. There are 147,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs (2019 data) that come from the forest sector.  
There is attention paid to a number of topics that are of interest to the wood-manufacturing sector, related to costs, environment, market expansion and export, amongst others. The province is looking to reduce barriers and costs, attract investment and innovation to promote economic growth and create jobs, all while ensuring that Ontario has forests that are sustainably managed now and for future generations. The strategy is based on input from a wide stakeholder consultation, and it took about two years from its announcement to its publication last month.  
There are five key principles listed in the strategy; Leveraging Assets, Strengthening Partnerships, Ensuring Sustainability, Fostering Innovation and Growing Markets.  The vision of the strategy - Ontario’s Forest Sector is a world leader in making and selling forest products from renewable, sustainable and responsibly managed forests. Ontario is the preferred location for investing in commodity and innovative forest products and advanced manufacturing. The goal of the strategy is to sustainably grow the forest sector so that it will create opportunity and prosperity for thousands of Ontario families, while encouraging innovation and investment in the industry. The province notes that, collectively, Ontarians can build a bright future for the forest sector and the many people and communities who rely on it by utilizing its most important and valued asset – a sustainably managed forest.     
There are “Four Pillars of Action” highlighted, including “Promoting Stewardship and Sustainability”, “Putting More Wood to Work” and “Improving Ontario’s Cost Competitiveness”.  The fourth pillar, “Fostering Innovation, Markets and Talent”, speaks, amongst many things, about growing talent in the forest sector. They note that forestry, like many other industries, is suffering from labor shortages in a variety of roles – from harvesting and log hauling operations, mill operations, to skilled trades, truck drivers and supervisors”.  
The strategy notes that stakeholders working together can develop and implement the required attraction, retention and training strategies to address those labor shortages and notes that industry, associations and the federal and provincial governments can work together to address challenges and that finding training opportunities for Indigenous youth will also be important for the forest sector’s future. To address shortages, the province will support forest education and encourage young people to look to careers in the sector. They will help build awareness of not only the responsible, sustainable management of the forests but about the many different skills needs and career options to be found in the sector. Mentioned in the strategy is their support for such programs as SkillsAdvance Ontario and the Specialist High Skills Major program, which reaches secondary students and exposes young adults to the opportunities available in forestry. The province also provides funding support for experiential learning for students in K-12, with support for education and career/life planning as outlined in Creating Pathways to Success.  
The strategy also touches on addressing barriers to trade, noting that because of our geographic location, the United States is a critically important forest product export market. Approximately 96% of Ontario’s wood products exports are shipped to the US. This is seen as a great asset when demand and prices are strong, and trade is open and fair. It can also be a major challenge when they are not. The province is working with industry, governments across Canada and with partners in the US to promote open and fair trade in forest products. The province will also encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to access growing global export markets by providing strategic advice and market intelligence and by supporting participation in trade missions in emerging markets. The strategy notes that increasing domestic use of wood, developing new export markets, along with enabling innovation in manufacturing and product diversification can help the province better manage fluctuations in trade with the US.
 
Ontario’s forest industry is producing innovative wood products to meet current and future environmentally conscious consumer choices, which include expanding markets for wood products. Ontario is only using half of the wood that it could sustainably harvest. This could attract investment in new domestic and international markets. The province is looking to expand to new markets for its forest products while working to strengthen existing businesses. They note many new and innovative forestry products depend on raw material from primary producers of lumber, oriented strand board, veneer and pulp. Demand for materials in producing these innovative new products helps to strengthen existing supply chains. By putting this wood to work, the province is providing for expanded economic opportunities for Indigenous and other Ontario communities that are dependent on forests. The strategy notes there is keen interest in making the provincial forest industry more competitive, so there is an emphasis on reviewing and possibly reducing what is seen as the high costs of regulatory burden, delivered wood, energy, equipment, transportation and forest management planning.   
The report notes that global trends indicate a movement away from construction of single-family homes to multi-family homes greater than three stories. New advances in technology and innovation using mass timber can help Ontario play a greater role in the multi-family, multi-story homes and tall wood building construction markets, domestically and internationally. Along with lumber and value added products, Ontario notes that in the future, with the emerging green economy, we will see more prefabricated building solutions. They are creating opportunities to increase the use of wood in construction where it has not traditionally been used before. The use of wood in low-rise, mid-rise and taller residential, commercial and institutional buildings and to build bridges is good for the economy, the supply of available housing and the environment. Codes and standards and the development of tools for example, along with research etc. will help expand the use of wood in buildings and other infrastructure. Increasing the adoption of modular construction and prefabrication using advanced engineered wood product from Ontario’s forests can help the industry innovate. It is also noted that Ontario’s public (Crown) forests are vast and provide many economic, social and environmental benefits to Ontarians. Crown forests provide diversity, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities, while helping to address the effects of climate change. Through sustainable harvesting, Crown forests also support a forest industry that creates needed products and good jobs. To remain strong and vibrant over the long term, we need our Crown forests to remain healthy, diverse 
and productive.      

Under the “Fostering Innovation, Markets and Talent” pillar, in terms of initial areas for action, Ontario is looking at making strategic investments, promoting innovation and increasing the use of wood amongst other things. Future action areas in this pillar will be focused around such things as adopting new technologies and supporting innovation in construction. In looking at the road ahead, the strategy mentions that Indigenous communities and their members are important contributors, economic players and leaders in the forest sector and have constitutionally protected rights that are exercised in Ontario’s forests. Ontario will continue to engage and consult with affected communities as elements of the Forest Sector Strategy are developed. The province will have a Forest Sector Advisory Committee to support the development of an implementation plan for the various actions contained within this strategy. In partnership with the province this committee will provide advice on the implementation of the strategy and will support the development of key performance indicators to measure the progress of implementing the actions and the success of the strategy. This group will report each year on progress made in achieving the actions in each pillar.
To see the whole report, go to Ontario.ca and search for Ontario’s Forest Sector Strategy.

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