Closure end of proud era

Last week, Resolute Forest Products announced the permanent closure of its Fort Frances paper mill. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for workers, their families, and everyone in the community.
First and foremost, my heart goes to the 700-plus workers and their families who have lost their livelihoods since 2012. It’s been a long and difficult process filled with uncertainty until now.
If you require any assistance at all with filing for any government programs or assistance that you may need, such as Employment Insurance, or feel you are not being treated fairly during the winding-down process, I urge you to contact my constituency office toll-free at 1-800-667-6186.
My staff and I are ready and able to assist you.
It’s a sad fact that we were to be celebrating the mill’s 100th year in Fort Frances this month. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the town without it.
It’s been the big economic driver for most of the last century and it was our largest employer until very recently. It’s a proud part of our history.
As they announced the closure, Resolute cited market conditions as the main reason as demand for paper products has fallen dramatically over the last decade.
Sadly, during this period, consecutive Liberal and Conservative governments never tried to prevent or offset the 134,500 job losses that have hit the 300 forestry-dependent communities across Canada—communities like Dryden, Terrace Bay, and now Fort Frances.
I knew from the day that you elected me to represent you in Ottawa that it was my job to promote the interests of the forestry sector, and to do the best I could to push the government to act and help end the decade-long decline.
I’ve always called for the federal government to show leadership by developing a national forestry strategy and convening bi-annual national forestry summits with the provinces, producers, unions, and First Nations.
I asked them to monitor unfair foreign subsidies, like the $9-billion (U.S.) black liquor subsidy that put Canadian pulp and paper mill products at up to a 25 percent price disadvantage for five years until 2009.
Following the collapse of Buchanan Forest Products, I tabled a bill (the former Bill C-501) that could have protected the pension and severance pay of workers who lose their jobs due to the bankruptcy of their employers.
None of these requests were given serious consideration by the Conservative government, and the Liberal Party even joined them in 2011 to gut C-501 so that it did virtually nothing it was intended to do.
Sadly, this is what we have to show for it.
It was gut-wrenching to learn of the permanent closure of the Fort Frances mill last week. When I did, I was able to ask the Conservative government a fairly simple question that it should have been prepared to answer.
Last Wednesday, I rose in Question Period to ask the following:
“Yesterday Resolute Forest Products announced the permanent closure of their paper mill in Fort Frances. It’s a devastating blow for workers, their families, and to our local economy.
“Canada has lost more than 134,000 jobs in the forestry sector since the Conservatives came to power, with 28,000 jobs lost in Northern Ontario alone.
“Why has this Conservative government rejected the NDP’s repeated demands for a national forestry strategy, for a permanent adjustment fund for communities hit by such large-scale job losses, and for greater pension and severance pay security for Canadian workers?”
The response I received was bizarre and unconvincing by even Conservative standards. In response, Kelly Block, the parliamentary secretary for natural responses, said:
“I am proud the Economic Action Plan 2014 builds on our government’s success on this file by focusing on innovation and protecting it from the threat of forest pests.
“Our focus on diversifying markets for forest products has increased softwood lumber exports to China tenfold.
“These are successes that we should be applauding.”
Needless to say, I did not applaud.
So where do we go now? I don’t know, but we do have a lot to work with here. We are strong people. We work hard and we work together. We have good values, and we share a very proud history from which to build upon.
For this alone, we can be grateful and optimistic about our future. But it will take time and a lot of hard work by a lot of people.
Sign me up.