Welcome everybody. Thank you for taking the time to join us today.
This is meeting number eight of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources. We're continuing our study on recovery in the forest sector.
We're very grateful to our three sets of witnesses who are joining us today from all parts of Canada. We have, from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development of British Columbia, Diane Nicholls, assistant deputy minister. From the Government of Alberta, we have Minister Devin Dreeshen. From the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, we have Minister John Yakabuski, Monique Rolf von den Baumen-Clark and Sean Maguire.
Thank you all very much for joining us today.
You're probably as familiar with committee processes as all of us, so I won't go to great lengths. I will simply say that you can speak either French or English. Translation services are available to you.
Each province will be given up to five minutes for their opening remarks. Following that, we will open the panel for questions to all of you.
My job is to periodically interrupt people and tell them that they may be going on too long or that the questions are too long, so I will apologize in advance for that, but bear with me.
On that note, why don't we start in the west with British Columbia?
The floor is yours.
Good morning, everyone, and thank you for inviting me to present to you today on the factors that can contribute to the economic recovery of the forest sector in Canada.
I am Diane Nicholls. I'm the assistant deputy minister and chief forester for the Province of British Columbia. I understand you're looking for information on innovative uses of wood and wood products, bioeconomy, concrete measures to support businesses, research and development, and best practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
I'll try to say a bit about each of these, but first I'd like to give you a bit of context about the forests of British Columbia. The total area in B.C. is 95 million hectares, of which 55 million is forested lands. Land available for harvesting is 22 million hectares and annual timber harvested is about 200,000 hectares. Roughly 95% of B.C.'s forests are publicly owned and governed by stringent laws and environmental regulations. We have one of the most robust, comprehensive legal frameworks for forest management globally. We have things like ecosystem-based management, biodiversity preservation measures and protections for species at risk in their habitats.
B.C. has protection of almost 1.8 million hectares, which results in protected lands and waters to over 15%. In B.C. we have over 200 first nations communities, which are unique to themselves and are mostly in rural, forested areas. B.C. is a leader in forest certification, with over 50 million hectares of certified forests or 98% of B.C.'s forested lands. B.C. accounts for nearly 15% of all certified forests in the world.
My world, as the chief forester for British Columbia, is forestry, from seed to product.
B.C.'s forest sector has been hit hard by the mountain pine beetle and the wildfires of 2017 and 2018. Now additional forest pest situations are arising across the province, in part due to climate changes that we see across our ecosystems. When B.C. was in the heat of the mountain pine beetle epidemic, milling capacity was increased to allow salvage operations to occur to reach maximum value from dead trees.
Now in B.C. the majority of salvage is completed, and as a result, the amount of fibre available for conventional milling, dimension and pulp and paper is on the decline. From my perspective, this is not a surprise as allowable annual cuts were increased to allow for salvage and now they are decreasing to maintain sustainable levels of forestry activity. Due to strong competition for economic fibre, meaning wood, we are seeing mill closures across the province and there is indication that more may come.
When we talk of innovation in wood products, two things come to my mind. One is the need for the creation of a circular forest economy sector, adding higher-value products where the whole tree is harvested rather than part of the tree. B.C. has lots of fibre and that can be used in the production of higher-value products such as bioplastics, biomaterials and biochemicals that utilize fibre, such as treetops, branches and harvest residuals that currently are not being utilized.
We have research and technology to produce these high-value products. We understand how they can be used in producing such things as car panels, fabrics and paints. However, we need establishment and commercialization of these products to create the demand, drive and capital interest in our country and the province of British Columbia.
There are additional added-value products, such as mass timber, acoustic boards and concrete biofilaments that, if used in building structures, can add the amount of biomass—wood—used in our buildings. That's beneficial. We need policies to support additional use of wood in all forms in our building structures. Studies have shown that these innovative uses of wood produce a good economic value, a good social value, greener products and higher-paying jobs per cubic metre. We're also just completing the work that shows us the assessment of the greenhouse gas emission values of these new products.
As chief forester of B.C., I am all about using the right fibre in the right product. B.C. needs conventional, dimensional products but we also need to be using the whole tree harvested to the best value for the public. To become centre on the world stage in the bioeconomy, we need to move the dial quickly and light up the runway to showcase bioeconomy opportunities across Canada.
It would be useful for all governments to be creating hosting conditions that will entice investors into Canada, more so than we are currently, where there are these opportunities.
What can we do to move the dial and move us into the bioeconomy, which in my mind is key to the economic recovery of the forest sector as one of the factors?
Obviously, we should continue working on a softwood lumber agreement, which impacts our foundational forest products sector and manufacturing.
We should ensure building codes allow for wood structures over and above what we currently have today, to include establishing use for bio-based insulation, acoustic boards and plastics, as well as finishing products and mass timber construction.
We should establish demand by the markets for greener-based solutions for their products.
We should focus innovation supports into green bioproducts that support hard hit forest-dependent communities, including first nations communities, by the creation of jobs and innovation of the biomass products.
We should continue supporting research and development so that Canada can become a leader in bioeconomy innovations.
We should develop a cross-Canada approach for commercialization of new product production that will attract entrants and support the creation of the circular forest economy sector.
A two-billion tree program, following the low-carbon economy leadership fund, where B.C. has the forest carbon initiative, is a welcome program for over the next 10 years. A tree is the best carbon sequestration machine out there, but it's not the only one.
Other forest management practices also enable greater sequestration, such as fertilization for faster growth, increased utilization of each tree harvested, and tree improvement activities that allow for development of climate-based seed and tree regulations that establish climatically adapted trees for better growth and health going into the future. No matter what age, trees sequester carbon, just at differing rates.
Biodiversity of species for wildfire mitigation is also a best practice. B.C. is working on ensuring that there is a mosaic of forests across our lands that enables forest resilience to natural disturbances and emulates balance for all ecosystem values.
On the long-lived wood products support, sequestration continues in the life cycle of products and that leads me back to the creation of a circular economy for the forest sector from seed to product, through innovation and commercialization.
Thank you very much for the invitation to speak here today.
Obviously, as everyone here in the room knows, it's been a very difficult year economically, not just for the forestry sector, but for a lot of industries across Canada.
Forestry is our third-largest resource sector in Alberta. It's key to our economic recovery. During the early days of COVID-19, we actually deferred timber dues for six months to ensure that forestry companies were able to operate and retain their staff. We also delivered the forest jobs action plan in the spring to support Alberta's forest sector by increasing the annual allowable cut by 33%. That was to ensure the fibre supply for our industry, ensuring secure jobs and investment at a very uncertain time. We also delivered on five initial key actions to increase up to 13% of that 33% of our annual allowable cut.
This will ensure a more expedient return of wildfire-burned areas to productive forests, which were hit especially in 2019 when almost two million acres burned here in Alberta. We awarded currently unallocated portions and approved annual allowable cuts through an open and competitive process. We explored the enhanced use of harvest waste and residual wood fibre. We increased the use of superior naturally occurring seedlings for the long-term health of our forests. We worked with companies to ensure the best use of allocated timber in their forest management plans.
Alberta is already—we like to think—the most competitive jurisdiction in Canada, but we think that we can do more. We're continuing to pursue new trading partnerships in Asia, as well as exploring the growth potential of value-added wood products to make sure that secondary wood products are something that we can actually develop here in Alberta. In addition to these actions, the new Growing Alberta's Forest Sector Amendment Act 2020, which we just passed in the Alberta legislature, will modernize the existing Forests Act, which hasn't been updated since 1971. That will ultimately meet the current reality of Alberta's forest sector.
The amendments to this act do demonstrate the government's commitment to the forestry industry and support Alberta's position as a top jurisdiction for forestry companies to do business, while still maintaining our sustainable forest management system and the strong regulatory role we have as a province.
The first change in the act enhanced the transparency of timber dues to support the competitiveness of Alberta's forestry sector. This will strengthen the province's softwood lumber case by increasing transparency around how dues are actually calculated.
The second change in the act is encouraging fibre access and the timber quota system. This will support the long-term timber supply and reduce the regulatory burden on our forestry sector by phasing out timber licences, updating the cut-control period from five years to 10 years and adding a preamble to the act that clarifies the actual intent of the legislation.
The third change involves cutting unnecessary red tape for long-term forest tenure and supporting a more streamlined regulatory framework. This includes enabling future development of forest management agreement tenure regulation and increasing the responsiveness of operational forums. Together, these amendments will help bolster the competitiveness of our forest sector here in Alberta.
Forestry is one of Alberta's foundational industries. We are well positioned to meet the growing global demand for our forest products. We have an initiative called the champions of forests in Alberta, where we are proud to share our science-based, sustainable management practices in order to improve consumer confidence and foster an environment for increased investment, thereby ensuring the long-term health and resiliency of this renewable industry.
Clearly, the forest industry in Alberta is not without threats. We have everything from the mountain pine beetle to forest fires, but our government does work closely with our forest industry on our 87 million acres of forested land here in Alberta to make sure it is properly managed. The industry, partnered with government, actually planted more than 100 million trees this year. That obviously reduces the risk of fires and also pests that could potentially sterilize our forests.
In 2019, as I mentioned before, two million acres burned here in Alberta. It was one of the worst wildfire seasons that Alberta has had. It released about 130 megatonnes of CO2 equivalence here in the province. We obviously want to make sure we have proper forest management practices that can go out in areas that are susceptible to forest fires to make sure that we can actually go there, harvest and replant a healthy new, fresh and young forest.
Another major concern the industry and we, as a government, have beyond forest fires is the proposed clean fuels standards on Alberta's forestry industry. Provinces and territories have legislative authority for that in forestry, not the federal government. Provinces and territories already have sound systems in place. These should be accepted and not duplicated, which would simply increase the regulatory burden on companies.
Finally, there seems to be no recognition of our current high standards. We have a regulatory system for approval, monitoring and biomass harvesting practices that are all focused on environmental and sustainable practices here in Alberta.
Despite this, and thanks to the aggressive, targeted actions from Alberta's government and cold winters, we have made gains in controlling the spread of the mountain pine beetle. To date, Alberta has spent over $1 billion, with $560 million on the fight against the mountain pine beetle to protect about $11 billion worth of pine forest. We spend about $30 million a year, every year, fighting these beetles to keep them within our border. We get $1 million a year from the Province of Saskatchewan to make sure that we contain the pests here and that they don't move eastward.
We do appreciate the federal government and for recognizing the threat the mountain pine beetle poses to Canada's forests. They did agree to a three-year, $60-million commitment to help Alberta in the fight against the mountain pine beetle.
That is a very good start. As I said, $11 billion worth of pine is threatened here in Alberta from the pine beetle, and we are at the forefront of that fight. It will have a devastating impact on the eastern provinces if we don't have it contained here in Alberta.
We are determined to ensure that our forest industry is able to grow and thrive, not just recover, but in the long term be able to prosper.
With that, I'd be happy to take any questions.
I appreciate the invitation.
Thank you very much, Chair. It's a pleasure and an honour to appear before your committee today.
As with almost every industry in Canada, operations in Ontario's forest sector stalled at the outset of the pandemic, due to widespread uncertainties in the early days.
Our government responded quickly. We were one of the first jurisdictions to include forest product producers on the list of essential workplaces. The essential status was justified and demonstrated by the surging demand for Ontario's forest products being needed from everything from hygiene to packaging for food to medical supplies. And of course, Ontario's forest products fed demand from our other key industries, like construction and the housing sector. Healthy demand levels meant that forest companies were able to overcome the initial lag very quickly, pushing themselves towards full capacity despite the operating challenges presented by the pandemic.
To offset the financial impact of COVID-19, Ontario implemented several measures to help the forest sector get back on its feet.
We expedited the implementation of this year's provincial forest access roads funding program to allow for infrastructure expenses to be reimbursed months sooner than normal. This helped forest companies cope with cash flow concerns.
We announced a six-month deferral of crown stumpage fees for the very same reason.
We made $3.5 million in funding available to forest companies to help them put protective measures in place for tree-planting workers, to keep workers and communities safe from COVID-19 and to ensure planning of this sustainable, renewable resource could be carried out last spring.
In addition, we are currently working with Natural Resources Canada to finalize and launch the $5.3 million forest sector safety measures fund, which will assist Ontario's small and medium-sized forest sector companies with the additional cost of putting COVID-19 protective measures in place.
In May, I convened an advisory committee made up of forest industry leaders to provide insight on how the pandemic was affecting their operations. Through the work of this committee, my government heard several suggestions to help the sector. Their number one suggestion was to finalize and release our forest sector strategy. In August, we launched our strategy after two years of development and consultation.
“Sustainable Growth: Ontario's Forest Sector Strategy” has a sweeping, 10-year horizon that will help the forest sector reach its full potential, especially as we work towards recovery from the pandemic. The strategy is intended to promote economic growth and development, but it's also aimed at protecting our forests to make sure they're there for future generations. This is a whole-of-government plan. Almost half the ministries in our government will undertake actions in support of the strategy.
To achieve its objectives, our forest sector strategy has four pillars: promoting stewardship and sustainability; putting more wood to work; improving our cost competitiveness; and fostering innovation, markets and talent.
We're working to promote innovative uses for Ontario's wood resources so companies can tap into growing international markets for the products we produce today, and those we will produce 10 years from now. A good example of this innovation is the growing field of mass timber construction, where we believe that Ontario can establish itself as a global leader. I applaud Natural Resources Canada for making investments in advancing the use of wood in building and bridge infrastructure. This initiative aligns perfectly with our efforts to promote mass timber construction.
We're also taking action to increase the use of sustainable and renewable biochemicals and biofuels in Ontario. This innovative use of forest products represents a tremendous opportunity to diversify the sector even further. We don't want to miss this opportunity. We look to the federal clean fuel standard to recognize Ontario as a leader in the sustainability of all forest products, including biofuels.
And while on the subject of Ontario's leadership in sustainability, I would like to point out that Ontario, like the federal government and other jurisdictions in our country, is fully committed to sustainably manage its forest and its inhabitants. We might go about it in different ways, but we follow a scientifically based policy framework that is designed to meet the conditions and circumstances of our province. When there are differences in approach, it is important that we have mutual respect and remember that Canada is world renowned for its sustainable practices, and Ontario has contributed to this reputation. If the merits of the province's scientifically based approach are not recognized, we are concerned that the market will be confused about the sustainability of our forests and forest products.
On a more positive note, thanks to cutting-edge engineering, modern bioheat systems are as efficient as fossil fuel and electrically based heating systems. This provides another heating option for rural, northern and indigenous communities that currently depend on fossil fuels for heat.
As we look ahead to what's required for recovery, my ministry encourages Natural Resources Canada to renew its commitments to invest in valuable federal programs like Green Construction through Wood. These programs have a proven track record of promoting innovation in the forest sector and helping to expand the market for Ontario's forest products while supporting job creation and economic growth.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about our ongoing trade dispute with the United States over softwood lumber.
Recently, as a result of an administrative review, the duty rates for most of Ontario's mills were significantly reduced, which is positive news, but we still feel the duties are unfair and we appreciate the federal government's ongoing efforts to fight against these unwarranted trade barriers.
I'm grateful for this opportunity to address the standing committee. The forest industry, one of Canada's most renewable and sustainable economic sectors, will be needed now more than ever to support economic recovery from this crisis.
Yes, I think we have a really good partnership with the federal government on building markets. We're really focusing on mass timber, which I think is great for Canada; however, when you think of the majority of the products of mass timber, they're based on two-by-fours, dimensional lumber or a raw material.
When you're looking at the fibre basket in British Columbia, we do have some of that, and that will continue as a foundation in British Columbia, but we also have an untapped area of fibre that is not currently being used and could be used. In my opening comments, my suggestion for the federal government is to work with the provinces on figuring out the right policies, incentives and opportunities that will attract new entrants to create and commercialize some of these new products that we know are out there. We know they work; we know Scandinavia is doing some of this work.
I agree with the comments from Ontario. If we wait too long to show the pathway and light up the runway to this new opportunity and that it's economically viable.... It creates good-paying jobs, more per cubic metre than, say, a bioenergy plant. It creates additional values to fibre that is already being taken down and/or fibre like the spruce kill that isn't useful anymore in some areas, like the mountain pine beetle, for manufacturing of two-by-fours, because it's just not the right material. If we had it and we could produce things like bioplastics, biochemicals or biomaterials and have that demand there for those products, then we would have, hopefully, an investment into Canada, and certainly in B.C.—that's what I'm driving for—so that we can have these products being manufactured in B.C. using the right fibre and creating additional value per tree harvested across the province.
On the clean fuel standard as it's progressing with the federal government, we were quite concerned about the initial draft because it would potentially add a greater regulatory burden to our sustainability and our ability to offer forest biomass into the clean fuel standard. We've worked with the federal government quite extensively and made our position quite clear on where the opportunities exist in that regard.
As I said, B.C. has a really strong, globally recognized sustainable forest management framework. We really see with the clean fuel standard the opportunity to use some of that biomass that currently isn't being used, such as, for example, residuals that are left after harvest. So it's not creating new impacts on the land base from what B.C. already does in its harvesting activities, but complementary ones.
One of the things I really want to bring to the forefront is that we've done extensive work on what we call an economic pyramid, a social pyramid, and we're just completing the greenhouse gas emissions pyramid. What we see in those is that, with the amount of biomass required for clean fuels, for renewable natural gas production or for energy production, it's quite expensive because you have to use a lot of biomass to produce the product, whereas when you look at the new, up-and-coming products like biomaterials, bioplastics and biochemicals, you need less biomass for a higher-value product.
The way we're looking at it—and the reason I keep coming back to the circular economy—is that it's not a trade-off of one product versus another. They're all complementary. When I look at the fuels and the energy, i.e., pellets and burning for energy, that should be the last part of the circular economy, the last stitch, because you're burning it and it's a final product. You can't make another product once you've used the fuel or the energy. But if you produce a biomaterial or you produce a two-by-four and that goes to pulp and paper and then it goes to materials production and then the residuals from that finally go forward to whatever can't be used in those others and they go into fuel or energy, that's the complementary cycle that we need to develop in the forest sector for B.C.
Yes, through the low-carbon economy leadership fund with the federal government and the participatory program that we've created in B.C. from that, the forest carbon initiative, that's exactly what we do. It is very much focused on forest management activities that sequester more carbon.
In my opening remarks, I said that planted trees, growing trees and faster-growing trees are like teenagers. As you're growing fast, you sequester more carbon, and you eat more food, right? As you get older, you slow down a little bit. When you're really young, it's a little bit slow too. Young trees still sequester carbon all the way through the life cycle, but it's not the only way. We've done the analysis and the modelling with the Canadian Forest Service as well around fertilization. It increases growth, and when you do the life-cycle analysis of even the production of the fertilization and the applications technique, we're still gaining in greenhouse gas emissions because of the faster rate at which those growing trees sequester carbon.
On slash pile burning and harvest residuals, in British Columbia, we don't use roughly the top third of the tree. We don't use the branches. That's where we are using the forest carbon initiative to pave the way forward, to show how we can bring those harvest residual biomass fibres into a location so they can be utilized for a product, whether it be a pellet plant or another product plant. We're having quite a bit of success in that and it's really, again, like lighting up the runway. Everybody said you can't do it. Through that initiative, which has been very supportive, we're showing that we can do it and there is an opportunity there. But we need to explore more and how to do it better.
I'm pleased to say we've had good success in British Columbia with these programs.
The one thing I have brought to the attention of my colleagues in the federal government is that, for British Columbia, we have some severely impacted communities, where mills have closed down and now they're brownfields. They're no longer producing anything. Those communities have been very hard hit. They're forest sector-dependent. It would be really nice to use a combination of federal and provincial funding programs that already exist, and put them together in a package that would support the conversion of a brownfield into a greenfield, and into this new innovative product that's supported by the communities and/or involving first nations in that production.
When you think of the IFIT program or the indigenous funding program, we should use funds from both of those programs to focus in on certain communities that are really in dire straits. That would be an opportunity to focus the funds to create something that's long-lasting.
I'm not saying the funds aren't being used for things that are long-lasting now, but they're proponent-driven. They're not necessarily comprehensive proposals all the time, because certain entities are looking out for what they're tyring to do. It would be nice to collate some of those into a program, or a project for some of these hard-hit communities, utilizing the infrastructure that's there, but just needs to be converted.
I'd also like to thank the witnesses.
I have a brief question for you, Mr. Dreeshen. First of all, I would like to say that I liked that in your remarks you pointed out that the forest industry is primarily a provincial jurisdiction. That's a point of view that we share, and I think everyone shares that view.
The federal government has a role to play, particularly in certain programs. I'm thinking in particular of the investments in forest industry transformation program. In this sense, we in the committee have spoken many times about the rather exceptional potential of bio-industries. In this regard, we have been told that it could replace certain petroleum-based products, particularly to make plastic, but that we lack some expertise. And this expertise is mostly in your region, in Alberta. You have specialists in chemistry.
Do you have a plan to transition from petrochemicals to bioproducts?
On the carbon footprint, in British Columbia we have carbon targets, just like the federal government does, in our CleanBC plan. Certainly long-lived wood products fit into that. As well, certainly planting of trees and doing forest management the right way feed into that, wildfire mitigation being key to that and the utilization of the fibre rather than burning it in slash pile burnings.
If I'm understanding your question correctly, with regard to a requirement of a sequestration amount attached to products as a way of benefiting or promoting more of a demand, I think that is one approach.
I also think there are opportunities for possible incentives from government. When you look at the building codes and how we got wood construction happening, you see there was an incentive around changing the building codes nationally. Then the provinces followed, and that allowed for an emergence of wood-building construction, architecture training, engineering training, fire safety training, etc., to make that happen. Now we're going upwards in those building codes, and that's progressive.
I think if we had incentives in play not just regarding the utilization of mass timber and changing building codes and pushing that advancement, but also regarding bringing in the elements of maybe a percentage of wood biomass used in building so that everything from insulation to bioplastics in buildings to biomaterials and/or biochemicals.... We can use wood filaments in concrete rather than glass filaments, as an example. We could create some innovative structures—
I'd also like to thank all the witnesses who have come before us today.
I'm also going to identify as a B.C. MP and address my questions to Ms. Nicholls, at least in this round.
You talked several times about this concept of the right fibre for the right product, and mentioned ways, I think, that the Government of B.C. is trying to incent pathways to open up new uses for parts of the tree that we haven't been using very much, taking slash piles or whatever and using them for better products rather than burning them.
I'm just wondering if there is a B.C. policy or strategy to make sure the really valuable logs go to their highest use. I hear from sawmill operators, especially smaller ones, all the time that they have trouble accessing large, old-growth logs that are being used for pulp and paper, or something like that, or sent to wood pellets....They would like to be making big beams from them, or two-by-tens or two-by-sixes, instead of having them just ground up and used in pulp and paper.
I'm just wondering if there's any strategy in the forest service in B.C. to really not just incent that to happen but to actually push and force that strategy.
Yes, we do have elements in our policy and our regulations that help that. Most of how the wood is used is based on business-to-business operations.
Sawmill operators are making dimensional lumber, two-by-fours.... If it's a high-value log for that product, they will be utilizing it for that product.
Some of the smaller operators have difficulty with the pricing that's being asked for certain logs that they would like to get their hands on. Others will pay. It's a competitive market, is what I am saying. We can't always get what we want all the time.
However, there are penalties if a pulp mill is utilizing two-by-four material or material that should be going to others.
B.C. is looking at ways of strengthening that and is working with industry on trying to find the best path forward on strengthening that so that we have a diversity of not just large producers but also small community-based producers. We've made some recent legislation changes and policy changes that we're just implementing now to see what kind of effect they will have. That's going to be very important going forward.
When we talk about slash pile burning alternatives for that fibre and/or those harvest residuals that are left on site, right now those are not being used, other than under the forest carbon initiative, where we've been able to bring the slash out of the woods and find a home for it. There is a real opportunity there to make sure that the fibre gets used.
When I say “right fibre, right place”, it gets back to that circular forest sector economy, as in “Let's not just take it and put it into burning for energy, but let's take it and try to make these other higher-value products first, and then use the residuals in burning for energy.”
As I said earlier, I think it really is a combination of products that we want to develop.
Certainly, renewable natural gas and/or the pellet industry for energy, shipping overseas and exporting are very helpful globally in the sense of getting us off coal and moving us to a cleaner energy fuel source, so it helps globally.
My concern is that we don't want to be using whole trees that will go into a pellet facility and into energy. We want to focus on using the whole tree in the right way so that two-thirds of it goes to our commodity-based dimensional products and the top third goes into that energy production, for example.
I think that every product has a place and that every area and region is different and specific. I think we have to pay attention to where the opportunities are the right fit for the right reasons. I think there is an opportunity, and the signals from both Canada and B.C. with regard to renewable natural gas have shown us that this has attracted investment.
My personal opinion is that we need to do something similar for these new products that people are less aware of—these bioplastics, biomaterials and biochemicals that actually have a higher value per cubic metre—and to receive benefits for the province and Canada. However, they're less known, and they're less recognized as being tried-and-true technologies. Globally, there is a big surge now for pellets. There are a number of markets—certainly the Asian markets, particularly Japan, and Scandinavia—that are looking for a pellet supply, and that's forging a big push in British Columbia and a big interest in investment to go into that square.
Over time those—
On the forest sector strategy, Paul, as a northern MP, you'd know what's going on up there with regard to the industry. It was the number one ask for a priority for the industry for us to move on this new forest sector strategy. We're actually before the Treasury Board in our multi-year plan when it comes to the funding, so I can't talk about that just yet, as you would be fully aware. We believe we have the strategy, and it's less about the amount of budget we're putting into it as opposed to the conditions we're creating, along with the industry, to make it far more sustainable and far better.
As you know, the pillars are stewardship and sustainability, putting more wood to work, improving cost competitiveness, and fostering innovation, markets and talent.
For those four pillars, it's as much about looking at the forest industry from a different lens and making sure it can reach its potential. When we talk about the amount of production out of the industry, it's only going at a little over 50% of what it was just 20 years ago. We're looking to a four-pillared approach of a new forest sector strategy in improving all of those conditions. As the number one pillar is stewardship and sustainability, we want to make sure that we can continue to have that reputation worldwide as one of the most sustainable and environmentally conscious industries out there.
In Ontario, it has about 147,000 direct and indirect jobs and an $18-billion economic impact for the province, so it's more than significant here, and I—
I may not follow your recommendations. It's not that I don't like Ontario, but I think I'm going to go after Ms. Nicholls again. It's not every day you get to talk to a chief forester who probably has a little more knowledge.
You know, Ms. Nicholls, I come from a forested region. I feel like I'm hearing about the potential of cellulose fibres and all the developments that can be made from wood chemistry and biomass. I feel like I've been hearing about this for the last 15 years. Unfortunately, we have the impression that there is a lot of delay in the emergence of the forestry sector.
In that sense, I'd like to hear your thoughts on government measures that could be put forward to support what is being done in research and development, which is still fantastic. Just think about what FP Innovations is doing. Even back home, there are many college centres working specifically on this issue. I see all the potential for innovation that's there, but I can't see how it's taking shape in the markets.
Given your expertise, what do you think could be done to facilitate the emergence of this sector, which would be very beneficial in the fight against climate change?
Okay. That's a big question.
You are right. People have been talking about these new products for quite some time, and we're not seeing commercialization to the fundamental level that we're needing.
When you look at Scandinavia, however, they have been successful in producing some of these products, and when you think about what wood chemicals are being used in the cosmetic industry, that's a multi-billion dollar opportunity.
However, most people don't know how to take it to that level, and that's the commercialization. We have good research, we have good technology and we're starting to see some start-ups, but the piece we're missing, certainly in British Columbia, is that next step of taking that research and putting it into a commercial enterprise and showing the pathway forward.
How can we do that? Government has a lot of different programs. A lot of those programs can really help to move the dial in the sense of maybe focusing on commercialization, or giving incentives to commercialization in the sense that if you go into these new venues, there is an opportunity to have government support for a period of time, whether it be a loan or a grant or a combination of loan and grant, with parameters—
Yes, as I did with MP Lefebvre, we had Oxford Pallet, which was a big one. We also have CRIBE, which is another very innovative organization that we've recently worked with on agreement. I'm not a hundred per cent sure if the agreement has been finalized yet, but this is, as I say, a forest innovation and investment program, and it's designed to create employment and also broaden the industry.
In the previous funding program, we did deal with a mass timber production facility that should be opening this spring, which we think will put Ontario on the cutting edge of that very important part of this forestry sector. I think there are tremendous opportunities for mass timber.
I've had the opportunity to be under more than a few bridges. People may not know that they are supported by timbers as opposed to concrete and steel. It's amazing how sturdy and solid these structures are. They've been in existence for some time.
We see great opportunities in tall buildings, mass timber buildings, and also in the construction of bridges and that kind of infrastructure that hasn't been traditional for some time. As for mass timber, we've got the highest quality wood in the world here and, with all respect to Alberta and B.C.... We're among the highest quality, we'll say that.
We're looking forward to opportunities from that. Those are the kinds of things that we're trying to support in those programs.
When it comes to COVID and our forestry sector in Alberta, production was slowed when COVID first hit, early in the new year, but once safety standards and new protocols and PPE were in place and physical distancing was done in mills, production ramped right up to full capacity. There were COVID cases, but there were no shutdowns of mills due to COVID. That was a positive thing that the industry obviously considered to be very important. If you're in your mill, safety standards are the most important thing so that you can keep all your workers safe and so that they can then go home at the end of the day.
When it comes to indigenous employment, about 8% of employees within Alberta are indigenous.
Within the Government of Alberta, in our tree-planting program as well as our wildfire efforts we had zero cases. When you look at the camps that we had set up, we had over 800 firefighters lined up this year. We actually hired an additional 200 going into the season knowing that we wouldn't be able to rely on our international wildfire fighters as we normally would. That 800-member standing army, if you want to say it that way, was the largest we've ever had at the beginning of any fire season in Alberta. Obviously we did that in response to not being able to be as flexible with COVID, but when you look at the 2019 wildfire numbers in the province, two million acres burned out of our 87 million acres in the province, and that's about 133 megatonnes. In 2013, the entire province of Alberta, including all of our industries, including oil and gas, emitted about 267 megatonnes. So about half of what Alberta typically emits in a year actually came from that terrible wildfire season that we had in 2019. That's why properly managing forests and reducing the risk of wildfires is so important.
I'd like to throw a shout-out to our wildfire fighters this year because in 2020, although it was a wetter, cooler year than 2019, with all the extra wildfire fighters and the work that they did, they put out over 99% of the fires by 10 a.m. the next day, and only 8,000 acres burned within Alberta.
Okay, I think it's just us.
There are two quick things. On Friday, the is coming. That will be our last meeting before the break.
There is one other thing I want to deal with quickly. You should have all received an email from our clerk earlier today with our budget proposal for this study. It's for $4,600, and it consists of money for long-distance calls and headsets and working meals, although I'm not sure who is eating there.
We're going to fall short of the budget ask.
Those of you who have been here for much longer know the budget for studies is usually significantly higher than this, but because we're doing everything remotely it's a relatively small number.
I'm asking everybody to consider supporting this budget so we can approve it, which would be of great assistance to our clerk and analysts moving forward.
Please give me a show of hands if everybody is in favour of approving the budget.
(Motion agreed to)
We will see you at the end of the week.
The meeting is adjourned.