By Kelly Many Guns
Canada’s forest products industry is a $67 billion dollar a year industry that represents 2 per cent of Canada’s GDP, and recently hired CEO Derek Nighbor for The Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) says he’s ready for the challenges that lay ahead.
First Nations Drum recently had the opportunity to meet-up with Nighbor at an event in Vancouver. We discussed his plans and initiatives including FPAC’s plans and partnerships with the Aboriginal community.
The industry is one of Canada’s largest employers, operating in 200 forest-independent communities from coast-to-coast, and directly employing 230,000 Canadians.
Nighbor was selected the new CEO for FPAC almost at the same time the new liberal government were elected.
“We’ve had a new government in Ottawa for the last 18 months so my main focus is what are the main issues facing the forest industry around trade, softwood lumber, and issues around labour,” Nighbor said. “I have spent a lot of time with issues facing us coast-to-coast, how do those issues interface around with what the Trudeau government priorities are; I think we have significant alignment with the government on issues like climate change, and healthy managed forests play a big part on fighting climate change. Also Truth and Reconciliation, we’ve done a lot of work internally on how we can do better in terms of supporting our companies with best practices on engaging with Indigenous communities, hiring Indigenous talent and working on Indigenous lands.”
Nighbor says that the main priority is how can FPAC work best with the government, and make sure the government knows what their issues are. For example, there currently is an urban government and as you know most of the forest products are in the rural areas so FPAC needs to bring forestry into the urban industry.
There is approximately 1400 Aboriginal businesses, contractors, and companies partnered wiry FPAC and, there are a little more than 17,000 jobs for the Aboriginal communities right now. Nighbor says that FPAC will be looking at the youth in the Aboriginal communities to fill in the aging workforce.
I asked Nighbor how FPAC is working closely with the youth in the Aboriginal community.
“There are two things, we sponsor a couple of Aboriginal Scholarships for Aboriginal students studying for a career in forestry, and partnering with CCAB (Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business) and awarding Aboriginal businesses for their work in forestry, and we engage our members with best practices when it comes to working with the Aboriginal businesses and contractors.”
FPAC shares their information as a national organization to companies on how they can do better in all parts of the country. They also take a close look at their hiring practices with the Aboriginal communities and focus on the cultural sensitivities, plus awareness building.
“So we play a big role in sharing collaborations on the overall big picture when it comes to working with the Aboriginal community.”
Since Canada forest products industry has the best environmental reputation in the world, according to a Lager Survey of international customers, does FPAC share their environmental standards with other countries?
“Yes, they’re jealous” Nighbor said with a smile. “We do have high levels of government ownerships of the lands, 90 percent of the trees in Canada are subjected to government rules and regulations. We have some of the best talent in the world and other countries are envious and there is a lot of interest in what Canada is doing in forestry, which is good as we sell our products around the world. The Canadian product is highly valued and trusted around the world, so that’s great for business.”
Nighbor says that forestry is a global business and he wants people to understand that our product is sustainable.
In regards to the clear-cutting issues, how does FPAC operate in this area.
“Number one, every tree that is harvested is done in very scientific and planned out way. Like I mentioned earlier, 90 per cent of the land is government related – the cuts are very planned, we need to take into consideration the species, the water and the local environment; for every tree that is cut, three are planted. The key is following the strict rules, the cuts are planned and based on science, we deal closely with the Aboriginal communities, even if you have legal right to cut in an area or on Aboriginal lands, we have to go in with good intentions because this is a long-term investment. So that’s important to have good engagement, and have good solid science knowledge when cutting.”
Nighbor grew grew up in the Upper Ottawa Valley, and had a lot of exposure, working in small mills and plants as a teenager, and his family also worked in the forest industry.
“I am also very passionate about rural issues and I understand how important these jobs are for the rural communities. There are limited job opportunities in the northern communities, and a lot of the young people have to move to the urban areas to find work. I want to be a voice for those communities and that’s why I took the job.”
Canada is ranked as the world’s second largest exporter of forest products and the sector is the second biggest contributor to Canada’s trade surplus at 20.9 billion.
The industry wants those numbers to grow. Increasing trade with new and existing markets will be necessary for a vibrant forest products sector, especially in the face of growing international competition.
The final questions I asked Nighbor was where does he see the forest industry in 20 years.
“Number one, selling our wood products to the rest of the world is a huge opportunity, there’s more opportunity in China, India, and number two, the types of product we’re producing, we’re increasingly making bio materials, wood components are being used in other goods like cosmetics, and we’re seeing a lot of new uses for wood materials.”
Nighbor finished the interview by saying, “For the Indigenous communities we’re gonna see a lot more job opportunities for the young people and working with CCAB is a good thing so we can better position ourselves on how we can tap into that young talent, that’s a huge opportunity for FPAC. It’s a truly sustainable industry and of course there will be challenges ahead of us.”