February 20, 2020
Nova Scotia sleepwalked into Northern Pulp crisis
The closure of Northern Pulp is a serious blow to woodlot owners and forestry workers across Nova Scotia. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the Nova Scotia government sleepwalked into this crisis and has been mishandling the fallout as a public relations exercise.
Many lessons can be learned from this catastrophe. The one I wish to focus on is this: it is imperative that a robust planning process be in place to ensure that industries which are systemically important to Nova Scotia can be supported or transitioned in as orderly and non-disruptive a fashion as possible.
What’s happening to forestry in Nova Scotia is not unlike what’s happening to the auto sector in Ontario, the aerospace sector in Quebec or the oil sector in Alberta. It’s not a transition so much as it is shock therapy for communities that are over-reliant on single industries. The problem is that decisions of when to support these industries, what conditions to place on that support, how to diversify local economies and what to do when these sectors falter, is highly politicized.
Other jurisdictions have done better. For example, Canada’s financial sector is very important, not just as an industry, but to the functioning of Canada’s economy as a whole. That is why Canada has arm’s-length entities to manage and regulate the federal financial sector, including the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, the Bank of Canada and the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation. Together with the federal government, these agencies and Crown corporations monitor the financial sector and individual banks and insurance companies; plan for their recovery or resolution in the event of failure; and protect the Canadian economy from the kind of systemic disruption that brutalized many other developed economies during the financial crisis of 2007-09.
For Nova Scotia, forestry is like banking: it is systemically important. There should be a non-political, arm’s-length provincial entity mandated to identify, monitor and plan for the future of critical industries like forestry, one that can play a co-ordinating role and prepare Nova Scotians for worst-case scenarios.
By taking the decisions of when and how to support or move away from vitally important sectors out of the political arena, the focus can be on ensuring stability, continuity and transitions that work, not just for industry, or just for the environment, but for all Nova Scotians in the long run.
Joel D. Henderson, Gatineau, Que.