Wood chips for making paper pulp for toilet paper are rare

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Close to empty shelves of toilet paper are pictured at a grocery store in North Vancouver, British Columbia. March 14, 2020.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / The Canadian Press

The demand for toilet paper in Canada has skyrocketed – increasing by 241% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Derek Nighbors, President of the Forest Products Association of Canada, revealed the dramatic increase in his testimony before the House of Commons finance committee on Friday.

He told the committee that the forest products industry has rarely enjoyed such visibility.

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And it’s not just because it produces toilet paper that Canadians started stocking as soon as it became clear early last month that orders to stay at home were imminent.

Neighbor said the industry supplied the pulp needed to make sanitary wipes, paper towels, face masks and gowns.

It also supplies wood pellets, biofuels and green energy to power provincial heating systems and electrical grids.

Although Nighter has called the surge in demand for toilet paper “a small anomaly” that will not last, he also noted that the supply of pulp products could face problems as they arise. as the country’s sawmills close due to a collapse in lumber prices caused by a pandemic.

Thirty-nine sawmills have closed temporarily, leaving thousands of people unemployed and reducing the supply of wood chips needed to make pulp.

“Some of these essential products that I mentioned earlier are made possible by pulp mills in Canada, but with the downturn in sawmills, our pulp mills are starting to suffer,” said Nighbourhood.

“They can’t get the chips they need to make their products in demand, so some of them are also starting to advertise downtime.” “

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With the closure of offices, stores and schools and declining advertising revenues, he said that pulp mills are also suffering from a collapse in demand for newsprint and other papers.

So far, most of the sawmill closings – 24 of 39 – have taken place in British Columbia. But Nighbour said: “As this progresses, I am more and more concerned with capacity issues in the East. “

Neighbor said that the federal government’s emergency assistance measures to help businesses weather the storm were of little help to the sector.

For example, he said that the massive 75 percent wage subsidy program leaves “a large majority of our industry players and workers.”

Nighbourhood said many companies operate a number of different factories and have not, overall, experienced a sufficient drop in income to be eligible for the wage subsidy. Rather than basing eligibility on overall business income, he urged the government to take a “factory by factory” approach, predicting that this would keep thousands of workers at work.

He also suggested that companies with 10 or 15 per cent lower revenues may be eligible for a 40 or 50 per cent lower wage subsidy.

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But Nighbour said that the biggest concern in the industry is the lack of cash to manage the increase in operating costs as product prices “fall from a cliff.” He said the industry is not convinced that the federal business loan programs offered so far will be sufficient and that lenders must be prepared to take more risks than banks have been until present.

“Our industry is not looking for a bailout,” said Nighbourhood. “What we are looking for is increased cash flow support to keep our businesses running for the next two or three difficult quarters. “

On Friday, the committee also heard from Mary Robinson, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

She warned that agricultural labor shortages, unexpected pandemic costs, disruptions in the supply chain and reduced capacity of food processors are eroding the confidence that farmers need to invest in planting a crop or maintaining herds of cattle – “decisions that need to be made now and directly affect the availability and affordability of food later this year.” “

Without immediate federal help, Robinson said, “Canadian consumers may see a decrease in the amount and variety of food in their local grocery stores, as well as higher prices in the months to come.”

Robinson called for flexible federal emergency funds specifically for farmers, priority access to personal protective equipment for agri-food workers, and measures to encourage Canadians to work on farms and in processing plants food. She also called on the government to strengthen existing income stabilization and support programs for farmers.

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In addition, Robinson echoed the Conservatives’ longstanding request that the federal government exempt farmers from the carbon tax.

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