No one can deny that the forestry industry in Manitoba has fallen on hard times, but for Gary Doer to suggest that the approval of the Dickstone Road through Grass River Provincial Park will somehow stabilize jobs in the forestry industry is disingenuous.
In the background information attached to the Provincial Government's November 21, 2008 News Release "Province Proposes Historic Changes To Preserve Provincial Parks For Future Generations" the government noted that the forestry industry employed approximately 2,500 people, down from the 9,000 employed in 1997.
Since then the lay-offs have intensified with Tolko's announcement of: "...an indefinite curtailment at its [lumber] plant in The Pas, Manitoba..." on January 19, 2009, resulting in an additional 107 forestry workers, through no fault of their own, being laid off.
Despite of the mill workers agreeing to wage roll-backs in January of 2006 when Tolko threatened to close the mill down., Tolko's revenues have fallen by 17.4% in 2006, and 21% in 2007. According to their 2007/2008 Business Update this was "...due mainly to a stronger Canadian dollar, reduced market demands, and export taxes."
Building a 17 km road through the middle of Grass River Provincial Park is not going to change the global market conditions the forestry industry is presently facing. It will not change the value of the Canadian Dollar, it is not going to convince Americans to buy more houses, and it is not going to convince our neighbors to the South to change their foreign trade policy.
The road development will however have a drastic effect on the local ecosystems. Of particular note are the endangered Woodland Caribou who calve in Grass River Provincial Park , and the bridge construction will have an impact on the fish and other wildlife in the park as well.
Tolko is heavily dependent on export trade with roughly three-quarters of its sales from outside Canada. This dependence on foreign trade is a double-edged sword that often cuts back during times of economic uncertainty. Unfortunately the laid-off Tolko workers know this all too well.
If the Premier really wanted to stabilize jobs in the forestry industry, perhaps rather than bicker about buy-American provisions he should consider implementing similar Buy-Manitoba clauses. If Manitobans were purchasing their wood products from locally derived sources the demand would be less dependent on external factors and therefore more stable. In this way Manitoba's forestry workers, and their loved ones, would be less likely to deal with the financial and emotional hardships created by price-shocks in a boom and bust industry.
Perhaps if we did this we could sustain our boreal ecosystem, protect our Provincial Parks and the woodland Caribou, and secure long-term jobs for our forestry workers at the same time.