COFI Convention Report Part 1: Politics Politics

The Council of Forest Industries Convention delivered on its promise – something for everyone!

I checked into the Ramada Hotel at 2 a.m. Thursday following a four-hour flight delay in Vancouver. The 6 a.m. wake up call came early for the “Exhibitors Early Risers Continental Breakfast Hour”, before COFI Chair, Nick Arkle, welcomed a packed auditorium at the Prince George Civic Centre, including Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, the Honourable Steve Thomson. Thomson acknowledged that the forest industry is now emerging battle-hardened from three major challenges in recent years – the Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) infestation, U.S. housing market collapse, and global economic recession. He identified a skilled labour force as the critical future issue for the industry, while describing the six per cent increase of forest sector employment between 2011-12  as “triple” that of other sectors. It was interesting to learn that government has spent $884 million fighting the MPB since 2001.

I first heard Thomson speak in January, 2012 at the BCWLA Smoker. While his staccato speaking style hasn’t changed, the presentation packed a lot more wake-up punch than his update to BCWLA members last year. Because we are now considered to be past the peak of the MPB epidemic, he suggests the government can begin tackling the woefully out-of-date forest inventory. He reports 35 million hectares of forest will be inventoried over the next ten years. Thomson drew attention to the government’s significant role in “positioning” the industry for the present recovery. Choosing words to fit the convention theme of “Transformation through Innovation = Success”, he declared “Government laid the groundwork for success”, particularly where overseas markets are concerned.

Thomson’s claims were promptly challenged by luncheon speaker NDP leader, Adrian Dix. Surrounded by a head table of industry heavyweights, including Steve Thomson, Dix argued it was in fact industry alone who deserves credit for opening doors to offshore markets. These contrasting views set the stage for B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s Friday windup address to delegates. Pulling no punches, Clark didn’t disappoint the largely partisan crowd. Clark argued the government’s role is vital, in partnership with industry, to open doors in international markets. She cited China as an example, acknowledging Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Pat Bell’s significant contributions in that process. Looking ahead, she claimed this partnered approach will be critical in markets such as India. Clark’s fiery delivery drew several standing ovations.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I’ll report on two most interesting panel sessions at the COFI Convention: 1) Global Macro Economics/Super Cycle and 2) Timber Supply.

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