Lim leaving OFIA while forestry in a position of strength

·8 min read

After 17 years on the job, former Timmins mayor Jamie Lim is looking forward to the spending more time with family life while keeping an optimistic eye on the future of the province’s forestry sector.

On Monday it was announced that she will be retiring from her position as president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA) at the end of the calendar year.

“In 2019, we had a little bit of a family health crisis, and it just sort of made me reassess everything, and I thought 2020 would be a nice time to retire,” she told The Daily Press.

“I made the decision before COVID. I can tell you now when I made the decision in 2019, I thought 2020 was going to be a nice walk in the park, and regular work, and closing some files and stuff with the association. I had no idea that 2020 would have a global pandemic and a global economic crisis waiting for us.”

Her final year at the helm has seemingly gone in a flash.

“Since March, it’s just been a blur, because we’ve been so busy making sure that we can continue working during this global pandemic.”

Lim said it is important to know when to pass the torch.

“Seventeen years at a trade association is a really long tenure. I’m very, very proud that I’ve had 17 wonderful years to work with the forest sector. Some of my members have been running their mills in their family for six generations. Representing this sector, honestly, has been one of the greatest pleasures in my life. It really has.”

Ian Dunn will step in as interim president and CEO effective Jan. 1.

Dunn is currently the executive director of policy and operations, and has been with the organization for five years.

“It’s really an honour and a privilege to lead an association like this,” he said.

“I got into this because of a passion for Ontario’s forests, and that’s a real source of inspiration for me and OFIA staff, and I'm looking forward to Jan. 1.”

Dunn believes the experience from his current role has prepared him to step into his new position smoothly, as it was policy focused.

“Certainly, how it impacted the woodlands operations of our members of forest management type issues. It’s grown over time to include manufacturing-type issues such as carbon pricing, emissions standards, things like that, as well as market-related issues such as the softwood lumber trade dispute.

“So in my current role, I’ve had a really good opportunity to get exposed to all facets of the business and I’m really looking forward to stepping into more of a leadership position.”

Lim said that by both growing up in Timmins and living in the city as an adult, she knows how important the mining and forestry sectors are to the local and regional economies, and emphasized their roles as the economic engines of the area.

She pointed to some big numbers from the OFIA.

“We employ 147,000 people directly and indirectly, and we generate about $18 billion in revenue for the province every year.”

Over the last two years, she said it has “been a pleasure” to work with a provincial government that recognizes the importance of the forestry sector to Ontario “and acknowledges the importance of having economic engines in Northern and rural Ontario that can create employment for our people.”

She credited Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford, as well as Minister of Environment, Conservation, and Parks Jeff Yurek for their commitment to improving the forestry sector in Ontario.

“All three ministers with the Premier have been instrumental in supporting the sector before the pandemic and during the pandemic,” said Lim.

Ford and Yakabuski announced the provincial forest sector strategy in August. Lim stated that in her 17 years with the OFIA, she has never seen the province willing to put forward a formal strategy.

“It couldn’t have come at a better time. The United Nations in 2018 had a study commissioned and it showed that global demand for wood products is expected to increase by 30 per cent by 2030.”

Lim believes that everything points to continued strength for the forest products sector, and that with the right public policy, and right aspirations from government decision makers, forestry can become an even bigger economic powerhouse.

“Respond to that global demand for wood products. I want to see them come from Ontario, and I want to see the jobs, and the economic growth in Northern and rural Ontario.”

Dunn agrees.

“I think we’re on a real solid foundation. The province’s forest sector strategy is an amazing opportunity to grow the sector. So I’m very optimistic about the future of forestry in Ontario,” he said.

In a year like no other in history, the forestry sector being declared an essential service was absolutely critical for both the people who are employed in the sector, as well as the general public.

Ontario was the first jurisdiction in Canada to make that declaration.

“People realize in times of crisis like this how important forest products are, and if we can source them from a local jurisdiction like Ontario, that’s even better,” said Dunn.

The forestry sector is essential to not only the province’s economic recovery, but also its response to the crisis.

“I think this is a sector that can really contribute to the response to the current pandemic in a number of ways. The production of PPE (personal protective equipment) or lumber for infrastructure projects or even palettes for the movement of goods and medicines,” he said.

Lim added, “We’ve kept people working, and to me, right now during this economic and health crisis, nothing could be more important.

“I never thought I would see something like this in my entire life.”

As she prepares to leave her position, Lim talked about the overall current state of forestry in Ontario.

“In March, I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t think anyone knew what to expect, and it’s incredible that forestry doesn’t seem to have been impacted like other sectors.”

The demand and sales numbers for wood products have been “exceptional,” according to Lim.

“Who knew that people, because they were staying home, would start doing all these do-it-yourself projects, new decks and renovations — the amount of building that went on really allowed our sector to maintain its strength in the global marketplace.”

Having been with the OFIA since 2004 and working through the 2008 recession, Lim sees the forestry sector as being in a better position this time around.

“I think there are more opportunities than challenges.”

She said that health and safety for everyone must be the top priority, but it does also present its own challenges. There are questions about how tree planting will be handled next spring, for example.

However, the forestry sector is in big demand right now with PPEs, consumer lumber, and of course, toilet paper sales way up.

“We’re the sector that is making sure that the supplies that people need right now are available,” said Lim.

She said the OFIA has a very engaged and passionate team in place, and has full confidence in Dunn.

“I am confident that the strong, effective advocacy that OFIA has been known for is going to continue without even a hiccup. We’re going to continue to make sure that forestry is top of mind with the provincial and federal governments, and that the measures we need to keep people working will be in place.”

Dunn will be keeping a close eye on the numbers in the final weeks of 2020 before he moves into his new role.

“I think Ontario is in a good position,” he said. “I think prices that we’re seeing for some commodity products, certainly dimensional lumber, which have increased pretty substantially over the last couple of months, it will be interesting to see how sustainable those prices are, or if they're more of a blip on the radar.”

So what’s next for Lim? Well, for starters, she said she would like “a well-deserved rest” but also, more family time.

“I want to exhale. My three children work in the medical sector and they’re all in hospitals, so I really haven't been able to spend any time with them over the last nine months. So my priority is going to be my family.

“We’re a really close family and we’re used to being together all the time.”

She is looking forward to the next chapter of her life.

“People that work with me and know me well, know that I am so passionate about two things: That’s my family and Northern Ontario.”

Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press