In Canada, the “C” word — compromise — doesn’t have the negative connotations it does in other jurisdictions. Canadians, since the country’s founding in 1867, have lived in relative harmony as two distinct societies, English and French. The people of Canada have also managed to agree on a perhaps less-than-perfect yet workable national health program and a much-heralded universal pension system. In addition, their recent federal election, where no political party gained a majority, demonstrated that, despite partisan differences,
Canadians will make concessions to get the job done.

To the amazement of vested interests in other forested countries, Canadians have also been able to hammer out agreements among the disparate parties setting up their ideological tents under
the country’s vast canopy of deciduous and coniferous tree species that represent ten percent of the world’s forest. Rather than suing each other at the drop of a hardhat, such groups as forest harvesters, environmentalists, academics, Aboriginal peoples, recreational organizations and the public at large have established an ongoing dialogue on forest-related issues. Their mutual aim is the wise use of this invaluable resource for the good of today’s population and generations to come.

They know there is much at stake. Canada’s forest and other wooded land cover more than 44%, or 401.5 million hectares (991.7 million acres) of the nation’s land. The wood and paper products industries are major contributors to Canada’s standard of living. They employ over 375,000 Canadians directly and some 700,000 indirectly, with more than 300 Canadian communities dependent on them for their livelihood. Forest products industry exports total close to $30 billion US annually and are one of the major contributors to the country’s yearly trade surplus. Despite rising forest exports from other nations, Canada remains the world’s largest forest products exporter.

André H. Rousseau, Interim Director General of the Policy, Planning and International Affairs Branch of Natural Resources Canada’s Canadian Forest Service, considers forest sector dialogue — manifested in an ever-evolving National Forest Strategy and Canada Forest Accord — a microcosm of the good working relationships between the country’s federal and provincial/territorial governments and its diverse non-governmental organizations.

“In Canada, you have several jurisdictions based on the country’s constitution with various roles and responsibilities, some of which are shared,” says Mr. Rousseau. “For example, the provincial
governments have responsibility for all their natural resources concerning legislation, management and, in the case of our forests, harvesting — setting limits on what and how much can be cut, so that the forests remain sustainable.”

Mr. Rousseau explains that when the country’s ten provinces were created, one reason they obtained jurisdiction over resources was so that the resultant revenues would help pay for services provided to their constituents. “The federal government has its own jurisdiction,” he continues. “To give just a few examples, you have international trade, national coordination, fiduciary responsibilities for our Aboriginal peoples, and pesticide registration and its use.”

Seventy-seven percent of Canada’s forest is under provincial jurisdiction, while the federal government is responsible for sixteen percent and the remaining seven percent belongs to private woodlot owners. Much of the federal land is in the north where the government still retains ownership but has devolved responsibility to the three territories: Yukon, North West Territories and Nunavut.

In terms of the environment, the federal government has trans-boundary responsibilities and laws, such as the new Species At Risk Act (SARA), but traditionally if a provincial law equals or exceeds federal expectations, that’s how it’s left. Otherwise, the federal government can step in if it sees fit.

“What ties everything together is a National Forest Strategy (NFS) dating from the 1980s,” says Mr. Rousseau. “If you follow its history, you can see an evolution in governmental and nongovernmental relationships and how the country has adjusted to new environmental, economic and social imperatives. In 1981, the federal government essentially created the first NFS. They consulted the provinces and a few industry and research associations. This was the typical relationship of government and industry — the inner circle.” As a result, the first NFS mainly focused on economics and fiber production. A group known as the Canadian Council of Environmental and Resource Ministers oversaw it.

“When that Strategy came out, the next step was the development of a series of Federal/Provincial Resource Development Agreements which tried to address some issues like research, communications and forest management — how to get the fiber supply up,” says Mr. Rousseau. “That was sort of the front end of the national forest strategy evolution. But Canada’s forest ministers felt not enough attention was being given to forestry, the backbone of this country in terms of our economy, quality of life, social values and such.” To put the proper focus on this natural resource, the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM) was created in 1985 to discuss issues of national and international importance, work cooperatively on certain matters and advance the forestry agenda. This was done by working with governmental and non-governmental organizations in a complementary fashion, avoiding duplication, creating synergies, trying to harmonize definitions and approaches, and learning from past experiences.

The second NFS spanned the period from 1987 to 1992, and it was developed through a broader level of consultation. For example, wildlife and other environmental issues were also discussed as part of resource management. The resulting NFS was considered a good step in the evolution toward reflecting the requirements of society.

In 1990, largely in response to the call for sustainable development by the influential Brundtland Report, Canadians embarked on a far more extensive and consultative process.

“The CCFM decided to work towards a new NFS by reaching out to a wide cross section of the public,” says Mr. Rousseau. “They resolved to abandon the ‘We’ versus ‘They’ approach and get everyone working together to advance the Canadian agenda while still meeting international responsibilities. The result was facilitated regional workshops featuring people from all walks of forest life. It was inclusive, open, transparent and objective.” By design, the process that was used eschewed the traditional scenario of people congregating with their friends in the workshops discussing issues that affected them most.

“We had Aboriginal people sitting with industry reps sitting with woodlot owners sitting with researchers sitting with environmentalists sitting with government officials,” says Mr. Rousseau. “I call it strategic social manipulation.” Upon completion of the consultations, a draft report was sent to the participants, both those who attended in person and those who had submitted written proposals.

“We asked them: ‘Is this what was said, and is there anything further to add?’ Some comments were received but because the process was objective, transparent and inclusive, the document really reflected what people had said.”

Next came a draft Strategy presented at a national forum of leaders and opinion-makers from the industrial, academic, environmental and Aboriginal segments of the forest community.

“We assembled some 70 or 80 gurus and put the draft to a test,” he says. “We asked them whether it was realistic and doable. With their input, we ended up with a new Strategy in 1992 that contained nine strategic directions and a whole bunch of action items.” Wondering whether the new Strategy truly represented a cross-section of Canadian society, the CCFM ran it by attendees at the National Forest Congress, a function it co-organizes on a regular basis with the Canadian Forestry Association.

“There were some suggested changes, but people primarily agreed with the new Strategy,” says Mr. Rousseau. “However, when it came time to sign the document, we found a reluctance to do so, especially by some of the bigger players who feared the legal implications. There was a perception that they would be responsible for everything in the Strategy, whereas it was supposed to be the responsibility of everybody, not one particular group.”

What resulted was the drafting of the first Canada Forest Accord, setting out the vision, objectives and values of Canadians for their forests.

As Mr. Rousseau puts it: “The Accord was a way of saying this is what we want to do together. We want to maintain our own rules and responsibilities and capabilities, while working together.’” A total of 29 major governmental and non-governmental organizations signed that first Accord, along with hundreds of individuals. Yet some suspicion remained about the document’s value.

“At the Congress, it was suggested governments would do like they always did — put the document on the shelf and in five years pull it down, check off a few items and boast about the great things they’d done,” says Mr. Rousseau. “So I was given a mandate to chair a Task Force of the CCFM, resulting in a recommendation to create the National Forest Strategy Coalition (NSFC) made up of the 29 governmental and non-governmental signatories to the first Canada Forest Accord and anyone else wishing to participate.”

The NSFC was mandated with advising the CCFM, promoting the Strategy and participating in its implementation. Another responsibility was reporting regularly on accomplishments and presenting a midterm evaluation with recommended adjustments and overseeing a final, independent third-party evaluation. Since the delivery of the NFS was the responsibility of all Canadians, the NFSC became a network of networks and it provided the tools to promote activities and encourage involvement by all. According to Mr. Rousseau, the NFSC continues to endeavor to make things happen through cooperation—to walk the talk.

Mr. Rousseau doesn’t come right out and say so, but he seems to consider the 1992-1997 NFS and the first Canada Forest Accord the apex of forest stakeholder agreements to date, even though the documents were updated in 1998 and streamlined in 2003.

“Some very important initiatives came out of the 1992 NFS and Canada Forest Accord,” he says. “Our Model Forest program, which is linked to the International Model Forest Program, provides 11 big outdoor laboratories covering over 19 million hectares (47 million acres), where not only do you test sustainable development and technology transfer and do research, but it’s also been a good place for decision-making and public participation. You bring the parties together to look at the landscape, weigh everyone’s interests and collectively decide how to move forward as a community on one big area.”

Another result was the creation of Criteria and Indicators (C&I) of sustainable forest management. Mr. Rousseau points out: “People were commenting: ‘You set out to do these things, now how do you measure whether you did what you said you were going to do?’ So the CCFM created a group charged with coming up with various C&I. They went to scientists and, in the case of national indicators for sustainable development, for instance, they asked how we’d know what it was, how we’d define it and how we’d report on it.

“So the C&I, our Model Forest initiative and our First Nations Forestry Program are all a result of and linked to the 1992 and subsequent strategies. Then we took our Strategy to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that year and said that as a part of the forest community we wanted to work on sustainable development both within Canada and internationally. We not only have ten percent of the world’s forests, we also have 20% of its drinking water and 30% of its boreal forest. Forestry is important to our world trade and to our quality of life, and we take it seriously and responsibly.”

When it came time for the 1998 NFS and second Canada Forest Accord, the world was advancing technologically by leaps and bounds, with access to far more data and input through the Internet and e-mail.

“As technology evolved, we evolved with it,” says Mr. Rousseau. “Perhaps because people were becoming more aware, there was a perception that the previous Strategy was trying to do too much, trying to satisfy everybody because everybody wanted a piece of the action. We decided to develop a Strategy that was less voluminous and less subjective by really focusing on the priority issues — understanding full well that the other stuff would happen anyway.”

Mr. Rousseau says the 1998 NFS was influenced by what he calls “social dynamics” where every interest group lobbied to have its agenda included in the outcome.

“We therefore ended up with an NFS that virtually replicated the previous one,” he says. “Instead of fewer strategic directions we retained all of them; instead of fewer action items we ended up with many more. Things hadn’t changed much, although we did get 52 governmental and nongovernmental signatories to the Accord.”

He adds that social dynamics also played a big part in the consultative process leading to the 2003-2008 NFS, with cross representations on each subject that was discussed.

“There would be conference calls that kept us on the phones for seven and eight hours at a stretch. It was a really stimulating and challenging slugfest. We were pushing to have less and people were demanding more. Nevertheless, the resulting NFS is much more streamlined than its predecessors, with a focus on priorities.”

Mr. Rousseau is proud that Canadians can reach such significant agreement with only a few minor bumps along the way. “Some people will always be at odds; however, they are all present, willing to dialogue and cooperate and to make their collective vision of sustainable forest management a reality across the country.

“We can’t be smug or condescending about it because we have many unique challenges,” he says. “However, we’re fortunate to live in a big country with vast natural resources and a relatively small yet very diverse population to manage and enjoy them. We work things out and can still do so without taking issues to arbitration or even to court.”

He then leans back in his chair and grins: “I suppose to some extent it’s a cultural thing. It’s the Canadian way, eh?”

The National Forest Strategy’s Themes and Objectives

Ecosystem-based Management: 
Manage Canada’s natural forest using an ecosystem-based approach.

Sustainable Forest Communities:
Develop legislation and policies to improve the sustainability of forest based communities.

Rights and Participation of Aboriginal Peoples:
Accommodate Aboriginal and treaty rights in the sustainable use of the forest, recognizing the historical and legal position of Aboriginal peoples and their fundamental connection to ecosystems.

Forest Products Benefits:
Stimulate the diversification of markets, forest products and services, and benefits (both timber and non-timber).

Knowledge and Innovation for Competitiveness and Sustainability: 
Maintain and enhance the skills and knowledge of forest practitioners and mobilize the broader Canadian knowledge community to establish a new forest innovation agenda for Canada.

Urban Forest and Public Engagement in Sustainability:
Actively engage Canadians in sustaining the diversity of benefits underlying the importance of Canada’s forest, including the urban forest.

Private Woodlots’ Contribution to Sustainability:
Increase the economic, social and environmental contribution by Canadian woodlot owners to Canadian society through a concerted effort to strengthen policies and services. 

Reporting and Accountability:
Create a comprehensive national forest reporting system for all valued features of the forest, both urban and rural.