Evidence of meeting #5 for Natural Resources in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was industry.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Arun Alexander  Director General, North America Trade Policy Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
Colin Barker  Director, Softwood Lumber Division, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
Michael Owen  General Counsel and Executive Director, Softwood Lumber Litigation Division, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
Ronnie Hayes  Senior Business Advisor, Industrial Biotech and Forestry Innovation, Multi-Sectors Practices Division, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
Manon Brassard  Deputy Minister and President , Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec
Gerry Salembier  Assistant Deputy Minister, British Columbia Region , Department of Western Economic Diversification
Chuck Maillet  Vice-President, Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

We're talking about $6 million.

In the same period, in British Columbia, $200 million was provided to fight the spruce budworm. In the western provinces, $75 million was provided. These figures show that Quebec may not have enough power in this federation and that it's somewhat overlooked.

We're currently experiencing a period of climate change. The forestry sector is probably one of the most promising sectors. You spoke of CED's willingness to invest in new forestry technology. However, nothing is happening, and I'm wondering why.

In my region, Resolute Forest Products has launched an initiative to produce cellulose fibre. Personally, I've been hearing about this for the past 10 years. There was talk of a revolution in this area. However, without the government's support, it won't happen.

I gave this example earlier this week to a woman who came to speak and whose name I've forgotten. I told her that this was done to make the oil sands profitable. A considerable amount of money was invested. When it comes to softwood lumber, why isn't there any money?

What does CED's forestry strategy look like?

4:55 p.m.

Deputy Minister and President , Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Manon Brassard

I want to talk about the fight against the spruce budworm. Some of the work was done in co-operation with Quebec to assess the issue. The amounts invested reflect the relative significance of the issue.

At the time, we worked with the Société de protection des forêts contre les insectes et les maladies, or SOPFIM. A spray was applied to 44,000 hectares of forest on public land. Many things were done in that area. SOPFIM was able to test and improve its strategies for dealing with the budworm. I don't want to give you the impression that the amount invested meant little.

I talked about previous initiatives and our current programs. I worked to establish CED as a regional economic development agency. Our efforts and approach are more focused on helping communities. We often need to vary our activities when a region is highly dependent on a single industry. However, we aren't particularly sectoral.

Over the past few years, our forest industry projects have totalled $14 million. We carried out projects with FPInnovations. We took these types of steps to maximize the scope of our actions. We're working with research centres and FPInnovations, which in turn will help companies even more.

What goes somewhat unnoticed is our work in the manufacturing sector to help the forest industry and all the equipment manufacturers in the sector. We want to help them continue their work and support the industry. I also mentioned our efforts in the biomass sector. Those efforts may not be enough, but we're continuing to work in this area.

We have partners and projects. This is new, and there's an element of risk. Part of our strategy is to provide the best possible conditions. When we work with not-for-profit organizations, or NPOs, our assistance is non-repayable. Our work with companies is repayable assistance. However, this requires patience, because the assistance is interest free. We may wait two or sometimes three years for repayment.

As you probably know, we have teams across the province that are familiar with the stakeholders and the small and medium-sized businesses. These teams are very responsive to their concerns. When a project is under way in the sector, we'll help them. Everyone has their own method, but our approach doesn't just involve calls for proposals. We operate on an ongoing basis. When good projects are presented to us, we listen.

We're continuing to work with representatives of the Government of Quebec and the industries in the areas that they represent to ensure that we maintain an ongoing and significant presence, which will have a positive impact.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Okay.

From the perspective that I mentioned earlier, wood is a very promising material in the fight against climate change.

5 p.m.

Deputy Minister and President , Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Manon Brassard

Absolutely.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal James Maloney

Mr. Simard, you're going to have to be very quick. I'll give you a little extra time.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Okay.

On your end, have any studies been conducted to promote the use of wood in the construction industry? Is this part of CED's activities?

5 p.m.

Deputy Minister and President , Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Manon Brassard

I believe that the wood innovation program has conducted some studies. We haven't conducted any studies per se, but we're aware of the existing studies.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Has CED made any investments in this regard?

5 p.m.

Deputy Minister and President , Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Manon Brassard

We haven't invested in studies.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Thank you.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal James Maloney

Thank you.

Mr. Johns, we'll go over to you, and welcome.

5 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thanks, Chair. It's great to be here on the committee.

Thank you all for your testimony.

I think most of my questions will be for you, Mr. Salembier, given that I'm from British Columbia.

You probably know that I'm from Port Alberni, where we're having a tough time. The downturn in the forest sector is affecting 12,000 British Columbians and their families and households. It is affecting supply chains. The multiplier effect is hurting every business in my community and in our communities.

You started talking about some of the things that you're bringing forward to try to help these communities. There was $867 million for the softwood lumber bailout package. Can you talk about how that's helping communities, companies and small business people on Vancouver Island?

5 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, British Columbia Region , Department of Western Economic Diversification

Gerry Salembier

If I have this right, the $867 million is a reference to the softwood lumber action plan that the Government of Canada put in place.

5 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

That's right. Maybe you can talk about how much of that has rolled out the door in terms of.... It's been a while.

5 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, British Columbia Region , Department of Western Economic Diversification

Gerry Salembier

Unfortunately, I'm not in a great position to speak to that since our department is not actually involved in the delivery of that $867 million. Representatives from Natural Resources Canada were here the other day, and Global Affairs Canada is more closely involved—

5 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

How much have they actioned to you?

5 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, British Columbia Region , Department of Western Economic Diversification

5 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Have they actioned any of that money directly to Western Economic Diversification?

5 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, British Columbia Region , Department of Western Economic Diversification

Gerry Salembier

The softwood lumber action plan does not involve funding for Western Diversification.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thank you for clarifying that.

You talked about Community Futures. We've been meeting with them, hearing from them. Most of those Community Futures organizations throughout British Columbia haven't had a funding increase, it is my understanding, in years. Can you speak about why that hasn't happened in terms of their operations? With inflation, they are cutting back actually, and not increasing.

Maybe you can speak about how this is going to help resolve that situation.

5:05 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, British Columbia Region , Department of Western Economic Diversification

Gerry Salembier

We're extremely aware of the pressures that the Community Futures organizations are under just as a result of inflation over the past 10 years or so.

At Western Diversification, we've had some ups and downs in our funding over that 10-year period as well. For example, the staff at Western Diversification is about half the size it was 10 years ago.

What we didn't do when we had a downturn in our overall funding was affect the funding of the Community Futures organizations. That was held safe from those cuts. That doesn't help with the fact they are facing inflation and have faced inflation over that time—

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

The demand has gone way up, clearly, with this situation—

5:05 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, British Columbia Region , Department of Western Economic Diversification

Gerry Salembier

The demand is going way up in situations like this.

We have put in place some interesting programming that Community Futures is actually delivering on our behalf. I mentioned the wildfires initiative in 2017-18, which is just finishing up now.

We've made other initiatives available to the CFs for them to make a call for proposals to us. Some $4 million has been devoted to that effort. That's across the west.

It's not direct funding for their operations, but it's—

March 11th, 2020 / 5:05 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

But getting extra money and extra responsibilities without getting funding to keep up with ongoing operations can be challenging to deliver. That's a problem, so I just want to cite that.

You talked about firefighting. I know there is a need for fireproofing, for fire suppression, especially with the trends we're seeing, when it comes to climate change and a warming planet and the fires we are seeing. Is there any action from WD?

You've done some great work. Thank you for the important investments you made at Coulson in support of air firefighting.

I'd love to see the federal government take a greater role and responsibility in firefighting and an action plan on that. We're seeing what's happening in Australia. Provincial governments are doing it, but in terms of the fireproofing and fire suppression, is that something you are looking at or working on with Natural Resources Canada?

5:05 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, British Columbia Region , Department of Western Economic Diversification

Gerry Salembier

In fact, it is something we are looking at. We are in discussions with both Natural Resources Canada and the provincial government about some initiatives for creating a centre for innovation in the fighting of wildfires.

B.C. has an almost unique situation in the world to be a test bed for firefighting technologies and approaches. The three things that go into wildfire risk prediction are weather, terrain and field types or species types, and in the 200 miles or so from Port Alberni to Kamloops, let's say, there is a greater variety of weather conditions, terrain conditions and species mixes than just about anywhere on earth. B.C. represents a golden opportunity to act as a test bed for fire suppression, for techniques and for predictive modelling of forest fires.