Opinion

Thomson: Importance of forestry spotlighted by Kelowna chamber

Next week, the forest industry in B.C. will be in the spotlight.

On April 7, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce will hold a luncheon featuring the president and chief executive officer of the Council of Forest Industries. John Allan is guest speaker.

That evening, COFI will hold a community dinner where I will be making a presentation.

As MLA for Kelowna-Mission and the minister responsible for forestry, I am pleased to see this sector of our economy getting the attention it deserves.

This government has worked hard to help the forest industry.

Since we came into office in 2001, we have invested $1.3 billion to support the forest industry along with communities across the province that rely on it.

We have also worked hard to provide new opportunities for the industry, both here and abroad.

One of the measures we have undertaken to help the industry was the introduction of a new Bioenergy Strategy, providing $35 million to diversify the economies of forest-dependent communities, creating new opportunities for forest companies and producing clean energy—all at the same time.

Today, more than 800 megawatts of clean bioenergy electricity has been installed in the province—enough to serve the needs of 640,000 households. Last year, about 1.1 million tonnes of wood pellets were produced through 11 B.C. pellet plants—and we have committed to developing at least 10 new community bioenergy projects to convert local biomass into energy by 2020.

Another way this government is helping the forest industry is through the Wood First Act.

Passed in 2009, this legislation requires all provincially funded buildings to use wood as the primary building material where feasible.

It’s a simple measure but one which helps to grow the market for forestry.

To further help this industry grow and have a more stable and predictable business environment, this government has also worked extremely hard to develop new international markets—especially China.

With both the world’s largest population and an incredibly fast-growing economy, China represents an extraordinary opportunity for B.C. wood products.

For the first time in history, China is the number one overseas market for B.C. lumber—with exports last year worth nearly $687 million. China is now our second largest market overall.

In December 2010, we broke all previous monthly export records with about 667,000 cubic metres of softwood lumber exports at a value of $107 million—more than we exported to China in all of 2003.

Last year, the value of exports to China was 10 per cent higher than in 2009—and 10 times greater than they were in 2003, the year this government opened its first office in Shanghai to market forest products.

This expansion into China, and the ongoing work to strengthen our presence there, is one of the most important things this government is doing to create a stronger and more diversified forest sector.

Combined with all the other initiatives this government has undertaken and the $1.3 billion we have invested in the industry since 2001, the forest industry is looking forward to a brighter future.

All in all, there will be lots to celebrate on April 7 at the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce luncheon and the COFI community dinner—recognizing the important economic and social contribution of this vital industry to our communities and the province.

Steve Thomson is the Liberal MLA for Okanagan-Mission.

 

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