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Editorial: Time to play politics

While looking through my notes from the International Bioenergy Conference in Prince George, I found a quote from Ken Shields, CEO of CanBio: “Who’s responsibility is it to hold the government’s feet to the fire?”


October 1, 2014
By Andrew Macklin

While looking through my notes from the International Bioenergy Conference in Prince George, I found a quote from Ken Shields, CEO of CanBio: “Who’s responsibility is it to hold the government’s feet to the fire?” I also noted that it will be policy that moves the bioeconomy forward.

One of the biggest challenges facing the bioeconomy is access to feedstock. Shields and WPAC’s executive director, Gord Murray, started a heated exchange on fibre access during that same session, moderated by our own Scott Jamieson. The same can be said for some of Canada’s biofuel producers, who bid on feedstocks from hundreds or thousands of miles away when local resources just aren’t available.

But I am not so sure that fibre availability is still the bioeconomy’s biggest hurdle. The focus of our industrial partners from coast to coast has been on meeting the demands of markets in the U.S., Europe and Asia. At the same time, the industry hopes that domestic policy will change to finally open the doors to sales of notable volumes on home soil. Perhaps it is time for us to shift our focus.

Our national bioeconomy stakeholders need to work on a united push to change government policies in Canada to establish a domestic market. There is currently no greater area for the industry to grow than here at home, even when considering the likely continued growth of international markets.

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That isn’t to say that associations across Canada haven’t tried to engage municipal, provincial and federal government officials. Groups like WPAC and the CRFA, to name just two, have consistently updated their membership on work being done in consultation with government officials or in meetings with government stakeholders. But it is clear that the work done to this point simply hasn’t been enough to launch a domestic bioenergy market.

So how do we progress?

I spoke to CanBio VP Brent Boyko from OPG Atikokan on this very issue. We discussed how easy it is to fall in the trap of just inviting sitting politicians, rather than reaching out to politicians from all parties when an important conference or meeting takes place. Sure, no one wants to have the bioeconomy bounced around like a political football, but inviting politicians from all political stripes creates the potential for discussion in the hallways among the provincial and federal governments.

But there is a need to make sure that there are clear objectives, strong facts, statistics and benefits for pushing the bioeconomy forward. We have seen how easily the industry can come into question; we need to be clear and accurate in presenting arguments to politicians to ensure that they don’t fall on deaf ears.

It is time for industry leaders to present a united front, with legitimate action items signed off by multiple stakeholders to provide the necessary clout. Without a consistent, unified voice in Ottawa and our provincial capitals, we will continue to be overlooked.


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