Despite the softwood lumber dispute and uncertainty over the future of the province’s forest industry, there remains a sense of optimism among the industry’s contractors as they prepare for their annual convention in Victoria this week.
The Truck Loggers Association will celebrate 75 years at its annual convention, which kicks off today at the Victoria Conference Centre and Fairmont Empress Hotel with 400 industry veterans.
TLA executive director David Elstone said the convention aims to celebrate the industry’s resiliency, even though it can’t answer some of the more pressing questions it currently faces.
“I think what’s top of mind and what overrides almost everything is the contractor sustainabiity review,” he said. “I’m sure we will be trying to answer a million and one questions about that.”
The review, introduced at last year’s convention, remains underway under the direction of former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott. The review is designed to improve the competitiveness of forest-sector contractors and strengthen relationships between logging contractors and licensees.
The hope is that the review will lead to recommendations to establish a more even playing field for smaller logging contractors, allowing them to survive.
Elstone said the hope is the review will be finished by the end of this month.
“I can’t tell you how much anticipation there is for the report. From a contractor’s perspective, it is undoubtedly the biggest thing to happen to the sector in terms of forest policy since the early 2000s,” he said.
While this year’s meeting may not be able to tackle that issue head on, the convention, which will run through Friday, will discuss a variety of issues the industry is facing.
That includes tackling the looming labour shortage, attracting young people to a traditional industry that lacks sex appeal compared to high tech, transitioning from old-growth harvesting to new growth and looking ahead to the future of timber harvesting.
They will also face NDP Forest Minister Doug Donaldson for the first time as group in hope of getting a sense of the government’s perspective on the industry.
“This is one of the first events the premier and the minister of forests will be involved in,” said Elstone, noting they intend to impress upon them the importance of the industry. “We represent small and large contractors, independent mills, suppliers and communities — we are the heart of the forest industry in B.C.”
There is no one segment of the three-day convention set aside for a debate on the impact of the softwood lumber dispute with the U.S., but Elstone said that issue will likely colour every discussion given the importance of that market to all contractors.
“It has a huge impact on how we do things. Satisfying foreign interests has influenced our forestry policy over many decades,” he said. “Policies and stuff we’d like to see changed is often seen through the lens of how the U.S. sees our changes, so what we’d like to get done doesn’t always get done.”