Alberta Party pledges to grow forestry industry with timber towers, research institute

Neil Korotash

March 29, 2019


Dustin Cook, Edmonton Journal

An Alberta Party government would increase building opportunities in the “forgotten” forestry industry and set out to bring a $1-billion boost annually to the economy.

If elected, the party would amend the province’s building code to allow for taller timber buildings as well as create a research institute, leader Stephen Mandel announced Friday morning.

“I believe in the past, Alberta’s not done near enough to look at how we can differentiate ourselves,” Mandel said in front of a wooden home under construction in the northeast neighbourhood of Schonsee. “The opportunity to build taller buildings out of lumber will … decrease the costs of operation as well as lower greenhouse gases.”

The current height restriction for wood-framed buildings is six storeys under the Alberta Building Code and Mandel said the province is falling behind other jurisdictions. A timber tower in B.C. constructed in 2017 stands 18 storeys tall.

Proposed amendments would mandate all municipalities allow for construction of taller wooden structures and the party would work with developers to use lumber in more cases. All provincially-funded public buildings, including municipal government and school board structures, would be encouraged to use wood as much as possible, Mandel said.

Under the plan, the Alberta Party projects an annual economic boost of $1 billion — increasing industry contribution from $7 billion to $8 billion — the creation of 6,000 new jobs and more than $100 million in new revenues to be dispersed between the provincial and municipal governments.

“The forestry industry is a renewable industry. It’s an industry that we have not in the past number of years really paid much attention to and I think it’s got great potential,” Mandel said.

Workers in the industry are frustrated about the lack of opportunities, Mandel said of conversations he’s had, noting “they can’t even get in the door” to discuss their concerns with the current government.

Alberta Forest Products Association spokesman Brock Mulligan said he couldn’t speak to Mandel’s claim specifically, but agreed the industry “tends to fly under the radar a little bit.”

“We’re working on changing that. The election campaign is part of that process,” said Mulligan, noting the association is pleased with the proposals brought forward by parties so far.

Alberta produces a significant amount of lumber supporting 70 communities through 40,000 people who depend on forestry for their jobs and it makes sense to expand with ample resources available, Mulligan said.

A technology and research institute would also be created under the Alberta Party platform with a $50-million investment through Alberta Innovates. The goal is to provide seed funding to industry-led projects and explore innovative advancements, Mandel said.

“Research is a big part of anything you do,” he said. “I think that’s one of the important things about building the new economy. It’s how are we going to be different in Alberta than other places.”