Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the Tree Canada Legacy

Michael Rosen

R.P.F., Cert.Arb., Adjunct Professor (UBC) and Former President, Tree Canada

Many environmental accolades have been attributed to Brian Mulroney: the U.S.-Canada Air Quality Agreement that reduced acid rain, the Environmental Protection Act, and the creation of eight national parks. But few know of his forestry legacy including the creation of Tree Canada in 1992 (originally known as the National Community Tree Foundation/Tree Plan Canada).

Brian Mulroney standing at a podium

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announcing the Tree Canada Foundation in 1992.

Although Mulroney as Prime Minister paralleled my first nine years as a professional forester, I underappreciated his legacy until later when I became President of Tree Canada and met his supporters.

One of those was Dorothy Dobbie, a Winnipeg M.P. who, after politics, became Chair of Tree Canada. Like most who served Mulroney, she revered the man. “It was not just his vision or the people he surrounded himself with,” she said, “It was his ability to effectively listen to diverse opinions in deciding on a course of action.”

A Rich Legacy for Forestry

The Mulroney era coincided with Canada’s “first green wave” – with concerns about clean air, waste, and the loss of tree cover, including trees in cities. People were disturbed by clearcutting and herbicide use, and – Canada faced international boycotts of its forest products as “unsustainable.”

Mulroney created a Department of Forestry, appointing Frank Oberle, a former sawmill owner from B.C. as Minister. In 1990, the Mulroney government released Canada’s Green Plan, which included the Canadian Model Forest Network – 14 forests designated as models of sustainability. Oberle also instituted the first National Forest Strategy (1987-1992) and Canada Forest Accord, which many deem the first consensus between industry, governments, First Nations, and environmentalists.

Oberle remembers Mulroney saying, “Frank, you can count on me to back you on any initiative you come up with.” “And” Oberle continued, “ He lived up to that promise”.

Tree Canada’s Creation

Tree Canada grew from Oberle’s vision. The organization provided aid for tree planting projects and had an educational mandate around the importance of trees in fighting climate change. In 1993, Tree Canada organized the first Canadian Urban Forest Conference, in which Oberle was a keynote speaker along with Erik Jorgensen – the grandfather of urban forestry. “Yes, Tree Canada has not only accomplished what was expected – but has far exceeded what could have reasonably been anticipated as the result of a program with a limited time horizon” Oberle said at the occasion of Tree Canada’s 20th anniversary in 2012.

Tree Canada’s first President, Chuck Geale, remembers Mulroney as someone who, “Got forestry back on the stage” and has fond memories of Mulroney speaking at Tree Canada’s launch. “The Prime Minister talked to me before the event about how as a student he had driven a logging truck in Baie-Comeau, Quebec” said Geale. “To thank him for his presence in launching Tree Canada, we gave him a painting of a logging truck – he was very touched.”

Today Tree Canada is a testament to Mulroney’s vision.

With over two dozen staff, forestry specialists across the country and a diverse Board of Directors, it has succeeded in implementing tree programs across the country. The organization is a national voice for urban forestry and plants millions of trees annually by collaborating with governments, the urban forestry sector, business partners, and community groups.

Thank you, Mr. Mulroney, for this amazing legacy!


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