Good afternoon, Madam Chair and members of the committee. Thanks very much for having me here on behalf of the members of the Forest Products Association of Canada, or FPAC.
FPAC is the voice of Canadian wood, pulp and paper producers nationally and internationally. The forest products industry generates $69 billion annually and contributes $21 billion to Canada's GDP. The industry is one of Canada's largest employers, operating in over 600 forest-dependent communities from coast to coast, and directly employing 230,000 Canadians across the country.
In 2017, our industry exported over $35 billion worth of goods to 180 countries. We heavily rely on Canada's supply chain to get our goods to market. We are the second-largest user of the rail system, transporting over 31 million tonnes by rail in 2017. We transport over 74.2 million tonnes by truck each year, which makes us one of the largest users of this system. Through ports, we ship approximately 31.2 million tonnes overseas.
The forest products industry is facing several challenges right now. Most importantly, the lack of reliable infrastructure to support our transportation system is estimated to cost our industry over $500 million a year.
Minister Garneau's 2030 transportation strategic plan is a step in the right direction, to help ensure that Canada has a long-term vision of what our transportation and infrastructure systems must look like. However, 2030 is fast approaching, and while some of the investments may well help in the future, forest products are still feeling the effects of the 2017-18 freight rail crisis, and we fear the same will happen this year. Months after the crisis, fulfillment levels are still low in our sector. With winter fast approaching, our members are concerned that they will have to shut down mills.
I would like to acknowledge the work that the Canadian railways have done in recent months to add more capacity to the system. Unfortunately, there is still great concern across Canada in our business that it will not be enough.
We need to revitalize the Pacific gateway initiative, and FPAC looks forward to seeing the benefits of the investments made through the trade corridors fund. FPAC also looks forward to the quick implementation of the comprehensive and progressive trans-Pacific partnership.
Canada needs to avoid taking sector-specific approaches to transportation usage. We know that Minister Garneau recently met with representatives of the grain and agriculture sector, and FPAC believes these types of meetings should be held with all sectors together.
With the implementation of Bill C-49, Canada has an opportunity to strengthen its legislation and regulations to make rail rates and service more competitive for railway customers.
FPAC hopes that with the new own-motion power granted to the Canadian Transportation Agency, or CTA, through Bill C-49, more investigations into rail issues will be done, with the support of Minister Garneau.
Rail, however, is not the only mode that currently has negative effects on the Canadian transportation system. For the past couple of years, Canada has faced and continues to face a severe truck driver shortage, which has caused the cost of this mode to rise dramatically. With the rail issue already prominent, the need for trucks is higher than ever, yet most times our members cannot get the service they need.
Federal and provincial governments need to do more to ease the truck driver shortage, for example via immigration and training. To help ease the truck driver shortage crisis in Canada and the U.S., FPAC recommends harmonizing weights and dimensions across Canada and eliminating cabotage rules.
In the final point of the supply chain, current congestion and bottlenecks at ports are increasing delivery times and costs for the forest products industry, specifically at places such as the port of Vancouver. Our second-largest market is China; therefore, the industry heavily relies on this port to get our product to Asia. Enhanced performance metrics, expanding B.C. ports and other opportunities along the B.C. coast, including the implementation of short-sea shipping where needed, will help with these challenges.
On dangerous goods, we need to maintain a risk-based approach.
FPAC also believes it is important for the federal government to provide a mandate for safety-sensitive workplaces, such as the transportation sector and ours, to be able to test employees in relation to the legalization of cannabis.
Finally, labour stoppages are an issue over which our members have to be extremely vigilant in order to prepare for delays and added costs. FPAC asks the government to include railways and ports as an essential service, ensuring that service will continue even during a strike.
In conclusion, we need to do more and have a better-defined vision of the infrastructure we need going forward, now and for the future.
Recently, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Innovation, Navdeep Bains, announced a report called “Resources of the Future”. Within this report, it is recommended that Canada have a 50-year Canadian strategic infrastructure plan.