A Critical Frame Analysis of Northern Ontario's 'Forestry Crisis'
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Since 2001, the forest sector and forest communities across Northern Ontario have experienced many challenges. In response, there has been significant provincial debate and policy reform surrounding the use and control of Crown forests, and some local leaders have established the Northeast Superior Forest Community Corporation (NSFC) under the federal Forest Communities Program (FCP) to collaborate for much needed economic and governance alternatives. This process has been difficult and characterized by uncertainty and conflict. This research examines evolving social framings of Northern Ontario’s ‘forestry crisis’ and the consequences of uneven power relations in the Northeast Superior Region of Ontario, Canada. Four core research questions were pursued: 1) how do different actors frame the forestry crisis in the Northeast Superior Region (e.g., problems, solutions and different actors)? 2) Do actors’ frames change over time? 3) What forms and sources of power are present and how do they influence, if at all, the construction of shared meaning? 4) How does social learning influence the way actors approach forest management problems related to policy, planning and practice? A single embedded case study design and mixed methods approach enabled analysis at the regional and organizational scales, for the period 2001-2009. A key informant survey assessed regional public-civic-private perceptions regarding the use and control of Crown forests. Fifty-nine interviews and over 200 documents from local and regional newspapers and reports were examined. Direct observations from two NSFC meetings and two regional conferences regarding Ontario’s forest governance challenges supplemented these data. Actors’ contrasting and shifting views were coded using QSR Nvivo 7 and analyzed for convergence as evidence of collective reframing. Survey results and frame analysis established two main perspectives of the ‘forestry crisis’: 1) a conventional perspective in which forest companies hold the primary interest in resource extraction as policy agents; and, 2) an alternative view that seeks increased municipal and Aboriginal control of forests to achieve equity and provide regional stability. Power relations reinforced an entrenched community of interest, including both internal and external actors (e.g., investors, mill managers and workers, bush workers, and government regulators), that has formed around a common goal and/or set of beliefs (i.e., timber extraction and scientific forestry). These interests have historically reproduced uneven social relations and overridden communities of place and collective place-based identities. The analysis builds to 14 conclusions that address the core research questions, highlights of which include: • Social framings of the forestry crisis in the Northeast Superior Region, as well as identities and local culture, are mediated by core-periphery dynamics. Such conditions normalize ongoing community instability and oversimplify notions of sustainability which prioritize a perpetual timber supply and economic values. • Commitment to place before interests provides a basis to develop trust and mutual understanding of each other and shared problems, and enable reframing of common identities based on shared values and local problems/opportunities. • Public control and collaboration are strongly valued in the Northeast Superior Region. Many leaders and residents want control over resources devolved to the municipal level; however, awareness and a model for effective implementation are needed. • Independent local forums are valuable for developing alternative and representative social framings. • Relational power works to consolidate various forms of agent-based power in dominant actors rather than facilitating its distribution. • Actors with unmatched positional and expertise power can (un)intentionally subvert reframing processes through limiting the participation of dissenters, thereby controlling the organizational framings guiding actions. • Dominant social relations influenced the perceived range of reasonable or desirable options as dominant actors bounded the problem to serve conventional interests, which in turn constrained debate about solutions. • Reframing a common place-based identity inclusive of Aboriginals and municipalities requires the willing redistribution of agent-based power and full recognition of Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. This research builds understanding of how power relations affect the social framings that drive action in settings of crisis, conflict and uncertainty, and provides new evidence to bridge concepts from framing and social learning theory. It supports the premise that social learning is a political process inherent in multi-party collaboration, in which reconciliation of individual and group identities occurs alongside the negotiation of problem and solution definitions. By documenting regional and NSFC perspectives, this research supports the search for alternative tenure models to reinvigorate Ontario’s forest economy and communities. Ten recommendations for NSFC, the Forest Communities Program or emerging collaborative organizations focus on organizational governance and practice to improve conditions affecting power relations and social learning. Main points include considering the need to organize culturally appropriate public workshops on forest issues to meet the need for deliberative space; increase access to organizational information and opportunities for NSFC plans to be publicly reviewed; actively participate in Ontario tenure policy reform discussions to develop, publicize and implement policy alternatives; support Aboriginal and Treaty Rights and meaningful resolution of First Nations settlement negotiations; expand NSFC board representation to include at-large public and ex-officio provincial members; decentralize organizational structures to establish a physical presence in partner communities and draw on leadership and capacity from the whole region; and, establish an explicit rationale for and clearly identify geographical boundaries for the organization.