features
#020 / 1999

*

A Vancouver Sun special report B.C. Forests - A New Way to Grow  by Ken Druska - lacked strong support for value-created initiatives. VCR's (*) response was published as "Letter of the Day" April 6, 1999.

Dear Editor,

I concur with Ken Druska that reports of the demise of the BC forest industry are highly overrated (A case of stunted growth, Vancouver Sun, March 31, 1999). The long-term silviculture initiatives he advocates would give us the advantage of an industry focused on quality rather than volume.

As publisher of an on-line magazine promoting modern furniture design and sustainability in BC, I also emphasize quality over quantity. The more value we can generate from every unit of timber harvested the better. Unfortunately Ken Druska’s report was luke warm in its support for value-added initiatives. He reflects the values of a generation supported by decades of resource extraction revenues - exporting minimally processed lumber with scant effort for huge profits. In the past there was little incentive for government or industry to develop the sophisticated designing and making skills our competitors found necessary for survival. Therefore it is not surprising that Ken Druska looks to land-based solutions instead of factory-based ones to solve our problems.

Ken plays down the importance of developing a modern BC furniture industry by using a number of false arguments. He states our wage rates are higher than "just about everyone" and that value-added "cannot make silk purses out of sow ears" (referring to the deteriorating quality of our timber supply).

industrial wages Canada v Europe
European furniture industry data, top producers

country

Canada

Austria

Belgium

Denmark

Finland

France

Germany

Italy

Netherlands

Norway

Spain

Sweden

France

data for 1997 in US dollars Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Tables were not part of The Vancouver Sun letter.

$/hr

16.55

21.92

22.82

22.02

21.44

17.97

28.28

16.74

20.16

23.72

12.16

22.24

15.47

In reality, industrial wage rates in Western Europe (which produces 45 percent of the world’s furniture) are considerably higher than in BC (see above). A modern furniture industry depends on large quantities of synthetic panels (MDF, particleboard) that can be readily produced from our abundance of low-value fibre. Our limited supply of clear-grade lumber could then be used to produce decorative veneer for these panels and generate a higher rate of return for this scarce resource than the ubiquitous two-by-sixes mentioned in the report.

The forest sector is still a vital part of the BC economy, but we must recognize that our attitudes about it need to change dramatically. We must move from the agrarian (tree harvesting) model toward an industrial model that is innovative enough to produce the well-designed, unique products the world seeks to buy.

Sincerely,
Stephen Harrison

note: the letter reprinted here is the original, not the slightly edited version that appeared as "Letter of the Day" in the Vancouver Sun, April 6, 1999.

(*) Now furniturelink.

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