Ten years ago most people in the Maritimes would have laughed at anyone who said that one day there would be no more fish.
Today, the Maritime provinces are on the verge of bankruptcy after the collapse of their main industry. A way of life is over.
In Quebec, where one in 10 jobs depends on forestry, the logging industry may soon go the way of the Atlantic fishery, says an alarming new book by Pierre Dubois, a forestry engineer and writer.
In “The Real Masters of Quebec’s Forest,” Dubois accuses logging companies of “mutilating” the forests of Quebec while the government stands on the sidelines cheering them on.
“We are on our knees before an industry that overexploits Quebec’s forests, rural residents and forestry workers,” he writes.
“A great injustice leaps out at whoever is interested in the forest: on the one hand, the great wealth of the forestry industry and, on the other hand, the poverty of communities dependent on forestry, the pitiful working conditions, unemployment and rural exodus.”
Forestry is one of Quebec’s biggest industries, if not the biggest. Mostly due to logging in Quebec, Canada has become the world’s top exporter of forest products.
But the resource is running out, says Dubois. After a century of clear-cutting in southern Quebec, loggers have now moved into the fragile forests of the North, where trees take 100 to 200 years to grow. In their wake lie a string of devastated communities that had grown dependent on surrounded by a de-forested wasteland.
Replanting as done in Quebec is a joke, says Dubois, since it creates unhealthy “monoculture” forests lacking in diversity that are sitting ducks for insect and disease epidemics.
Dubois says the forests are a public resource, but the government won’t protect them because it’s in the industry’s pocket. Government’s close ties with the industry are a threat to democracy, he suggests.
As an example, Quebec’s only school of forestry engineers, the professionals mandated to protect the forests, is located in the Abitibi-Price Building of Laval University in Quebec City. The building was named after one of Quebec’s forestry giants in 1987 after the company donated $750,000 to the university. One lecture hall in the building is named Consolidated Bathurst Hall, after another logging giant.
Due to the power of the forestry industry, Quebec has North America’s lowest stumpage rate—the fee paid to the government for each tree cut.
Dubois says protests are spreading across Quebec and in First Nations lands against the industry, but it’s not an easy task because the government has been bought off.
“The choice is clear. Put the brakes on the industry’s activities, or wait until we reach the bottom of the barrel,” he says.
“We must stop letting ourselves be put to sleep,” Dubois adds. “We must, above all, transform our mentality—stop believing that we don’t have any other choice than to give our forest to industry.”