Recently I was privileged to watch a mesmerizing Canadian political protest. Basically a bunch of lumberjacks got up at 2am and drove 800km in their logging trucks to raise awareness about the downturn in the forest industry. The convoy stretched over 15km long as it snaked against the flow of commuters leaving downtown Vancouver to drive past a conference for municipal politicians. The protestors felt that poor government decision making had exaggerated the economic pain in British Columbia’s notoriously cyclical forest industry. It was all incredibly civilized and a far cry from the disturbing demonstrations in Hong Kong and to a lesser extent France, UK and many other countries over the past few months.
In an ideal world, governments should have minimal influence on markets and industries. But in British Columbia the government effectively owns 95% of the trees growing in the province. They then sell them to forestry companies who cut them down and process them into commodity products like lumber, plywood, pulp and paper. A large part of the perceived problem lies in how the fees are calculated to harvest the trees. Having had friends who worked in the government timber pricing department, I can attest to the questionable efficiencies of the system.
It’s hard not to sympathise with the protestor’s situation. Most are owner-operator subcontractors who are hired to transport wood long distances from the forest to the sawmill. They work in a dangerous environment, often in adverse weather conditions, for 12-14 hours per day and have to make the most of shutdowns in summer for fire risk as well as fall (autumn!) and spring when the roads get waterlogged. They simply don’t have the balance sheet to ride out the interest payments on their $200-300,000 truck.
A Canadian logging truck is an impressive piece of engineering. They are designed to drive on rutted out gravel roads as well as paved highways and can carry over 40 tonnes of timber – enough to build a 2500 sqft wooden house. To see 300 of them carefully driven through western Canada’s largest city was incredibly impressive. Even more impressive was their respectful behavior and road etiquette. Unlike French lorry drivers they maintained strict lane discipline. They also managed to differentiate themselves from the underwhelming Brexit protest on London’s M25 by sticking to the speed limit. Amongst the horn blowing in downtown Vancouver I even heard a few apologies shouted to inconvenienced drivers and pedestrians – how Canadian!!
I very much hope that their message gets heard by the government and other sympathetic ears. But more than that, I hope that other political demonstrators around the globe can learn from their respectful non-sanctimonious, non-disruptive and unentitled behavior. It will unquestionably generate better public sympathy to their respective causes.