Op-Ed by Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Bill Mauro
THUNDER BAY – OP-ED – Reconciling economic development and environmental protection can be a challenging balancing act. But when it comes to Ontario’s forestry sector, I am proud to say that our province is achieving just that.
Forestry is very important to the province’s economy. It provides about 170,000 jobs and generates over $11 billion in annual economic activity. There are over 260 communities across Ontario – in both the north and the south – that are supported by forestry.
The sector was hit hard by the global recession, but it’s now on the upswing.
Greater demand for wood products, increased housing starts and a lower Canadian dollar are all contributing to the recovery. And we’re seeing results: Ontario’s exports and annual harvest have both increased in recent years, and companies are investing millions of dollars in communities like Hornepayne, Atikokan, Ignace, and Thunder Bay.
But it’s not just these fundamentals that are putting the wind in our forestry sails.
Ontario’s record for managing our forests in a sustainable way is recognized worldwide. And this gives us a competitive advantage over jurisdictions that do not measure up to our rigorous standards. In a world where “going green” is increasingly becoming a marketing advantage for companies and jurisdictions, we are proud to promote our forest products as sustainable, renewable and protected.
Each year, about one half of one per cent of our managed forests in Ontario are harvested, and we require that independent audits be conducted regularly to ensure our forests are managed sustainably.
Almost 80 per cent of the managed Crown forests in Ontario have obtained independent, third-party certification, which assures the marketplace that these forests meet internationally recognized ecological, economic and social standards. And while Ontario only has about two per cent of the world’s forests, we are proud to have approximately seven per cent of the world’s certified forests.
That’s why we are viewed as a world leader in sustainability, and that’s why our government is so proud to promote our forestry industry.
Since 2005, our government has provided in excess of $1.3 billion through a range of programs in support of the forestry sector. We recently made permanent up to $120 million in annual support for the Northern Industrial Electricity Rate Program, which benefits forestry operations.
Over the past ten years, our government has provided over $605 million toward the construction and maintenance of public forest access roads. The 2015 Budget announced another $60 million for this year to ensure that we continue to support this vital industry that is so important to communities across Ontario.
The 2015 Budget is also making the forestry sector eligible for the $2.7-billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund. By extending eligibility to the forestry sector, our government will help the sector increase production capacity and expand into new markets while ensuring this resource is managed sustainably. This will also help modernize the forestry sector and facilitate the production of higher value-added products by supporting the adoption of new technologies.
In addition we’ve introduced competitive tax rates and changed the Building Code to allow mid-rise wood structures up to six stories – which will increase the demand for Ontario wood.
We also launched the Ontario Wood brand, in partnership with our forest sector partners. When Ontarians “look for the leaf” logo that is part of the Ontario Wood brand, they know they’re supporting jobs here in the province, reducing environmental impact and using an attractive and renewable resource.
We know that there continues to be challenges and that some sectors are seeing reduced global demand; however, the future is bright for the province’s forestry sector and our government is proud to be a partner in its resurgence.
Through careful environmental stewardship, we are not only protecting our forests and the precious species that call them home, but we are also helping to create good jobs in Ontario while marketing our world-class forestry sector on the global stage.
And that is something that all Ontarians can be proud of.
Minister Bill Mauro MPP
Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry