Hewers to Carvers
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“A culture is no better than its woods.” — W.H. Auden
The first step is to recognize that our greatest asset—abundance of natural resources—is our greatest crutch. Paul Lavoie, a marketing wizard at TAXI advertising, sums up the Canadian conundrum: “The abundance of natural resources has made us fat, bureaucratic, complacent, overly cautious, and dull. Need some more money? Chop down some more trees. But what good are they if we keep shipping them abroad? We have trees, Sweden has Ikea. We have water, France has Evian and Perrier. We are the fifth-largest car-builder in the world and yet there is no such thing as a Canadian car.”
So the question is: What are we going to do with all our trees? We have billions of them. Half of Canada is treed, accounting for 10 per cent of the world’s forests. There are 361,000 direct jobs in Canada’s forestry sector according to the NRCAN State of Canada’s Forests 2004-2005 report. The value-added wood product manufacturing sector grew by 53,600 jobs to a total of 185,800 jobs between 1995 and 2004, while the low value-added paper manufacturing sector and logging operations lost 18,100 and 19,700 jobs respectively. Meanwhile, the bulk of Canada’s felled forests are automatically earmarked for low value-added newsprint, pulp or softwood. Canada is the world’s biggest exporter of pulp, accounting for 30 per cent of the entire world export market, which is a pauper’s game, especially with the massive investment going on in Asia right now in forests that are simply growing much faster than Canada’s.
When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he famously replied: “Because that’s where the money is.” It’s time for Canada’s forestry industry to take a similar perspective. For too long, Canadians have languished in a sorry state of entrepreneurialism, where we just hew the water and carry the wood to the big boss, who then extracts the lion’s share of value up the rest of the lucrative value chain, right up to the customer. We’re not just a bunch of hicks, right? Our national animal is not a woodchuck that just chucks wood.
Our national animal is a beaver that carves and builds. It’s time to accept that it’s not who controls the customer that matters, but rather who controls the resource and thereby controls the market. The wood is ours. It is here. We can do with it whatever we like, including setting it aside for major value-added enterprises. We are not a third-world country. We have top-rate infrastructure, human capital and stable financial capital through our half-trillion-dollar worth of pension funds.
Three areas in particular meet Willy Sutton’s criteria of going where the money is: