Nova Scotia adding $13.5M to forestry transition fund

The Nova Scotia government is topping up the $50-million fund established to help the forestry sector transition in the wake of the Northern Pulp closure.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said the $13.5 million that has already been spent or allocated will be replenished, and the fund will be put into a trust where it will be administered by three government-appointed trustees. Two of the officials will be members of the forestry transition team.

Rankin delivered the news to members of the forestry industry Wednesday in Halifax at the annual general meeting of Forest Nova Scotia.

“I don’t have to tell folks in this room that you’re in a great transition period of change. Whenever there’s a major player in the supply chain that has closed, there’s a big impact across the whole province,” Rankin said in his address.

Premier Stephen McNeil first announced the $50-million transition fund in December when he decided not to extend the Boat Harbour Act. The decision meant Northern Pulp, the province’s largest pulp and paper mill and a key player in the forestry industry, had to close its effluent treatment facility, without which it could not operate.

The mill has since gone into hibernation while its owners seek approval for a new effluent treatment facility.

The team managing the forestry transition fund has so far allocated $7 million for silviculture and forest road building$5 million for short-term loans and $1.5 million for retraining and emergency assistance.

No plans for the new funding

There aren’t specific plans for the replenished transition fund, yet, and Rankin said his department and the recently assembled forestry transition team will look to industry members for ideas.

“Markets is the biggest thing right now for their chips at the sawmill,” Rankin said in an interview.

He said they’d be looking at export markets and new, innovative ways of using wood chips.

Innovation in the sector was at the heart of several presentations on the second day of Forest Nova Scotia’s annual general meeting.

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., is viewed from Pictou, N.S., on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

People in the audience heard that they cannot allow immediate challenges to overshadow the need to make long-term shifts.

With Northern Pulp wrapping up its operations last month, many operations are without their biggest market and that creates a trickle-down effect that touches just about every aspect of the industry.

Presenters Wednesday said the way through immediate challenges is finding ways to innovate for the long term.

Allan Eddy, manager of business development for Port Hawkesbury Paper, talked about that mill’s plans for an eco-industrial park. The idea is to attract other businesses with similar interests to set up shop on the mill’s 120-hectare campus and be able to feed off one another for energy and other potential efficiencies.

“So the outputs of one plant feed another, the inputs of another create economies of scale for the others and collectively the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Eddy told reporters following his speech.

An official from Port Hawkesbury Paper says the company is looking to establish an eco-industrial park. (CBC)

The approach would generate new revenue streams for the mill, as it shares waste heat and steam that otherwise would have been vented into the atmosphere, and access to an industrial waste treatment system.

“Those are all items that can work with other plants and give them a quicker start than they might otherwise have,” said Eddy.

As sawmills have contemplated where they will send wood chips now that Northern Pulp is no longer there to buy them, Port Hawkesbury Paper has reached short-term agreements with some mills to act as a bridge.

Innovating for the future

But Eddy said it’s not realistic for the industry to expect the province’s last paper mill can fill the gap created by the loss of Northern Pulp. Port Hawkesbury Paper consumes only about a third of the wood Northern Pulp was using, he said.

“Whether … the events of December had happened … things were going to change anyway. This just drives the pace of change that much quicker,” he said.

Beth MacNeil, assistant deputy minister of the Canadian Forest Service, said making that change will require all players in the sector and all levels of government to focus on how to diversify markets and products.

She pointed to British Columbia, where in response to shrinking amounts of fibre, the industry has shifted to higher-value wood products.

“Rather than the traditional sawlog industry, they’re looking at bioproducts: bioplastics, using biomass for heat, electricity [and] focusing on secondary marketing,” said MacNeil.

‘We do have to be forward looking’

She said those options could have potential in Nova Scotia, as could considering ideas in the context of using the forests to help transition to a low-carbon economy and address climate change. They’re big conversations, but MacNeil said they need to happen now and cannot be put on hold simply because there are immediate challenges related to the closure of Northern Pulp.

“Folks are, I believe, in a very difficult situation. Yes, they are trying to pay the bills and keep the lights on, but while they’re doing that we do have to be forward looking,” she said.

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