Quebec's Forests Are More than Trees to Harvest

Today, the ruling elites continue their reckless and socially irresponsible pursuit of maximum profit and push their pay-the-rich schemes, all the while claiming to be concerned for the future of Mother Earth. It is a sordid and profane show of buffoonery to make light of such grave matters. A case in point is the forest industry in Quebec, which considers Quebec's forests to be "trees to harvest," the workers costs, and Indigenous peoples obstacles to their plunder.

Today, the forest industry is very much alive to one extent or another in 157 Quebec municipalities. In the Outaouais, for example, a region built on the wood industry, it still accounts for 50 per cent of manufacturing production. The problem is not wood-cutting per se, but rather the historical access that companies have had to our forests and their indifference to and covering up of the actual harm that this is causing to the natural and social ecosystems.

It's not that the alarm has not already been sounded. In 1999, the documentary L'erreur boréale, by Quebec artist and spokesperson for Action boréale Richard Desjardins was aired, expressing concern over the dangers of clear-cutting and the blind destruction of our forests. The film had a momentary impact in that, among other things, the Quebec government at the time set up the Coulombe Commission which was to look into the matter. More than 20 years later, Action boréale still affirms that the situation is critical and that the Quebec government still considers our forests to be the "lumber yard" of forestry companies. Recently, 67 Quebec scientists, in an open letter, denounced the "industrial" vision of the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks and called for the creation of a "national observatory," independent of government so as to have a better assessment of the condition of our public forests.

The situation is such that forestry companies speak eloquently about measures taken to fight carbon emissions and to "reduce their environmental footprint" and in the next breath demand governments "increase the allowable cut," meaning provide even greater latitude to cut more trees at further reduced costs. Now, with the high price of lumber, the only "green" they are concerned about is the colour of money. In this respect, the Quebec government -- always at the disposal of the wood industry -- presented its Strategic Plan 2019-2023 in which it announced increased harvesting of Quebec forests in the upcoming decades which, it claims, will contribute to "the fight against climate change" and to "economic development." It also announced with its recent budget that important cuts were to be made to the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks.

As for the forest industry, it goes from one crisis to another, from one plant closure to another. In the Outaouais, the Fortress plant in Thurso has been closed for more than a year-and-a-half, one of a number of plants that have been shut down in Quebec. Much of the wood industry has always been dominated by foreign -- especially U.S. -- private interests, and today it is even more concentrated in the hands of "asset management" companies for whom the wood sector is solely a means to make shareholders rich without assuming the least responsibility towards communities, the environment or workers.

Ask the White Birch workers of Stadacona. A few years ago when the company went under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, the plant was purchased by Black Diamond, one such asset management company. Black Diamond proceeded with "restructuring" that, along with a number of layoffs and setbacks in working conditions, cut dramatically into the pensions to which workers had contributed all their lives. In spite of numerous obstacles and total government indifference, these retirees are still struggling in defence of their dignity and to reclaim what is theirs by right.

In the case of Fortress, its closure has had an impact on many other plants and sawmills in the region. There is a need to take a step back and consider the problem in its entirety, as an organic entity in which human beings and nature are interconnected, and where the main preoccupation for workers and communities is to act responsibly towards society and nature. For example, certain municipalities and organizations are recommending that the medicinal and food value of forests be considered. The pressure against this is to impose the vision that the problem is simply of timber supply. This pressure can be seen in the report of an "intervention cell" set up to study the crisis in the forest industry in the Outaouais and the Laurentides. The proposals put forward are basically aimed at "improving activities related to supply in these regions" and "taking advantage of the value-creating potential offered by the forestry sector in these regions." It also asks that the Quebec government "do what is necessary to bring about a breakthrough in the negotiations with the Algonquin community of Lac-Barrière."

A clear line of demarcation is being drawn. On the one hand, there are the private interests and governments who want to keep the decision-making power firmly in their hands so as to continue to act unilaterally at the expense of the natural and social environment. On the other, there are the workers, the Indigenous peoples and the Quebec people, especially the youth, who have expressed in numerous ways their opposition to the destruction of their natural and social ecosystems. They are taking into account the real harm being caused to Mother Earth, including the very social fabric, and want to be an integral part of decision-making on matters that have such life-changing impacts on their immediate environment and the future of humanity itself.

This article was published in

Volume 51 Number 6 - June 6, 2021

Article Link:


Website:   Email: