Tree farmers furious over Canadian Tire's artificial Christmas tree ad

Tree farmers across the country are none too jolly over Canadian Tire's latest commercial which, they say, promotes artificial Christmas trees as an eco-friendly alternative to farm-grown firs or pines.

Fake trees are made with oil-based products and fabricated overseas in places like China, doing more harm to the environment than good, said Jimmy Downey of Downey Tree Farm & Nursery in Hatley, Que.

"They can't be composted. They can't be recycled," said Downey, who is also the president of Quebec's Christmas tree producers association (APANQ).

"But natural trees live in the environment for 15 years, producing oxygen for us, and they are recycled. Ultimately, they are better for the environment."

The association is calling on Canadian Tire to nix the commercial.

The ad opens with a father and daughter first strolling through a snowy forest with a hacksaw in hand. The daughter stops her father from cutting one, silently pointing to animals living in the trees.

She points to other trees, abundant with wildlife and then leads him away.

The scene cuts to indoors, where the pair is decorating a white-needled artificial tree while the company touts itself as providing everything people need to celebrate the holidays.

15 million Christmas trees in Quebec

APANQ says tree farms are local businesses whose operators have often been growing trees for several generations. It says trees are a renewable resource. New trees are planted as older ones are harvested.

There are an estimated 15 million Christmas trees growing in Quebec, Downey said. The association bases that estimate on the number of acres used for tree production in the province, multiplied by the number of trees usually grown on an acre of land.

Tree farms also provide seasonal work, Downey said, with about $3 per tree going to pay workers' wages.

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Downey's concern with the ad is shared by tree farmers across the country.

"It's like an attack on our industry," said Shirley Brennan, the executive director of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association. "It's disheartening."

Avoid 'grinchiest' plastic: Suzuki Foundation

Tree farming is a $100-million business in Canada that produces a sustainable crop — a crop that can grow in soil otherwise sometimes unfit for food production, she said.

Brennan is also concerned the ad seems to promote harvesting trees from the forest rather than buying trees from tree farmers.

Her association has been working to dispel a myth held by some consumers and corporations that artificial trees are better for the environment. She said studies show one tree-farm acre produces enough oxygen to sustain 18 people for a day.

The David Suzuki Foundation agrees that natural Christmas trees are friendlier for the environment, and people should avoid purchasing trees made of the "grinchiest" plastic — polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The foundation encourages people to buy trees from local farms that reduce or don't use pesticides or herbicides.

Ad tells 'heartwarming story': Canadian Tire

Canadian Tire's Facebook page features the video, and it has drawn backlash from some users — not just in Quebec, but in other provinces, as well — who take aim at the harm plastic trees do the environment.

The company has been replying to negative comments with the same statement:  "Our Christmas public tells the heartwarming story of a little girl and her father sharing a Christmas moment."

"As Canada's Christmas Store, we are proud to have everything Canadians need to celebrate the magic of the season."

Cindy Hoffman, a Canadian Tire spokesperson, said the company collaborates with natural tree producers, selling their trees in more than 200 store locations. 

"We also provide rental space in front of some of our stores to natural tree growers to sell their trees to our customers," she said.