By Ellen Cools
By Ellen Cools
Pulp & Paper Canada‘s sister publication, Canadian Forest Industries, recently spoke with Jason Krips, the new president and CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association (AFPA), on a range of topics including the AFPA’s plans to work more with the pulp sector.
They also discussed issues facing the Alberta forest industry, including the mountain pine beetle, caribou and COVID-19, and what the future holds for the sector in the coming years.
CFI: Congratulations on the new role.
Jason Krips: Thank you. I’m super excited to be a part of what I believe is a very growing industry and I feel privileged to be in this chair, supporting our industry not only through the COVID situation but beyond that into potential growth.
As the new president and CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association, you bring experience working with the Alberta Public Service and a background in international relations. How will that you help you in this position?
I was fortunate to have a relatively long career with the Alberta government – 19.5 years with the Alberta Public Service in various roles – and fortunate that many of those different roles had me working with an international lens and an international view of our markets. My intent is to take some of those learnings and help our industry continue to grow, to find new markets, to support them, whether it’s continued growth in Japan, South Korea, the very complex but important market of China, or the most important market for any Canadian industry that exports – the United States.
What are the main issues that you will be focusing on in this role?
Helping our companies see through COVID-19 and then continue to grow. Mountain pine beetle certainly is also a key issue that we’re focusing on. We’re going to work with our provincial government and the federal government to continue to invest in mountain pine beetle mitigation and deal with the issue. We also have the issue of caribou habitat that we’re really working closely with our industry partners on. Growing our markets will continue to be a priority for us and the intent and hope is that coming out of COVID, we’ll be poised for growth here in the province from a forestry perspective.
What are the main concerns you’ve heard so far from members of Alberta’s forest industry?
Maybe not so much concerns but where we can continue to work with our members. We’re fortunate to have two new members join AFPA – Mercer last fall and Al-Pac just this past spring. My intent is to work with them to support the pulp sector a little bit more. I really feel that we have an ability to step up and help support the pulp sector. That’s certainly going to be a focus for me.
Of course, the pulp sector is very important right now given the products they produce for front-line workers, such as personal protective equipment.
Exactly. If there’s any one incident that’s shown the importance of the pulp sector, it’s COVID-19. You don’t need to look much further than toilet paper or the Lysol wipes or the egg cartons and everything else that our society is relying on for these products and the safety of themselves and their families. At the end of the day it comes down to supporting our people, not only in the pulp mills but also in sawmills and panel mills.
The softwood lumber duty imposed by the U.S. has had a significant impact on Alberta’s forest industry, given the large number of products that are exported to the States. What still needs to be done to find a resolution to this issue and support Alberta’s forestry workers?
It’s a very complex issue, as you know. We’re on the fifth dispute in modern times, so obviously there are various tools being deployed to try to resolve that. You’ve got the administrative appeals at the courts and at some point, hopefully, the parties will be able to get back together for negotiation. The AFPA is going to play a very important role in advocating not only federally but within our province and through our members to try to find a resolution.
Now COVID-19 is negatively impacting the industry. But the Alberta government is deferring timber dues for six months to help support forest companies and workers, and has introduced the Forest Jobs Action Plan. What are your thoughts on these initiatives?
They’re very supportive. I’m really impressed our government has stepped up on the deferral – it was really the first out of the gate out of all the other jurisdictions in Canada and very responsive to the needs of our members, and the Forest Jobs Action Plan as well. I’m really excited about the increase in the annual allowable cut that they announced as part of that, an increase of 13 per cent. Sustainability is obviously at the core of everything we do and that won’t be any different – we’ll be working with our industry partners on the annual allowable cut and ensuring the increase is done in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
On top of COVID-19, Alberta’s forest industry has also been struggling with dwindling fibre supply due to the mountain pine beetle and wildfires in recent years. What advice do you have for Alberta’s forestry companies during this difficult time?
We’re fortunate to have highly efficient mills, and the health and safety teams have been very committed to keeping their mills safe. By and large, most of our operations have continued to operate during this time. My advice is to just continue to work in the communities they are. They’re being very supportive of their communities during this time. If you look at our member companies, they’ve made significant donations to the local food banks and the like. So, I’d say just continue doing what they’re doing, because they’re doing an excellent job being longstanding community members.
What is the AFPA doing to help?
We’ve been working quite closely with our sister organizations in other jurisdictions – FPAC as well as COFI and our Ontario and Quebec counterparts – on requests to the federal government and programs that may help our companies through this situation. We’ve been keeping very regular contact with these organizations and working with them on any requests for the federal government. I’ve also been reaching out to some municipal leaders to touch base to see where we could provide more of a voice in the provincial government for them.
While there are a number of issues facing Alberta’s forest industry, there are also opportunities in the form of new markets, like mass timber. Do you see these aspects of the industry growing in the coming years?
Very much so. When you look at the increase on the National Building Code that Alberta’s already implemented, up to 12 storey-high wood buildings, it gives us a huge opportunity on the mass timber front. We’re really excited that the announcement came out already, provincially. As the National Code starts rolling out, that will give us a huge domestic opportunity to increase the use of wood across the country.
Looking ahead, where do you see Alberta’s forest industry in the next 5-10 years?
In the next five to 10 years, I see growth here in the province. I do think coming out of COVID-19 that we’re set, given some of the policies that have been put into place. I would expect that we will see growth in new investments, and I’m just excited to work with the industry, to work through some of the challenges that may be impediments on that growth such as mountain pine beetle and caribou, to make sure that we continue to produce in a very sustainable manner.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.