Effective lobbying

It’s too early to start popping the champagne corks on word last week that the provincial government is putting together a “package” to help our ailing forest industry.
Premier Dalton McGuinty was decidedly vague about what the package may contain, other than to say it would resemble similar deals the province has reached with the automotive sector and the movie/TV industry in southern Ontario—something NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton has been demanding since late winter.
It’s also clear any package may be too late to resurrect an industry already clinging to life support. Abitibi-Consolidated is shutting down one of its two remaining paper machines in Kenora permanently, no matter what the government may come up with, while just yesterday, Cascades Inc. announced it would close its #5 paper machine and converting operations in Thunder Bay—meaning about 150 employees will be laid off by year’s end.
Still, the fact the government has pledged to deliver a boost to the forest industry is reason for cautious optimism, not so much that companies’ fortunes will turn around tomorrow (they won’t) but because of how Northwestern Ontario rallied together over the past few weeks to get the attention of Queen’s Park.
In a nutshell, we lobbied hard—and it worked.
Municipal leaders did their part through the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, and then last week during the annual general meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in Toronto. Local Chambers of Commerce joined in the fight, as did residents in communities fighting to save their jobs.
A town hall-style meeting in Dryden attracted some 370 people last month, and a “Don’t Kill the Mill” rally was held in Kenora last week. Fort Frances, meanwhile, is planning to hold a “forestry summit” sometime in September—aimed at getting residents here involved in the cause.
Despite the long-standing perception that Northwestern Ontario is well off the radar screen at Queen’s Park, it’s evident this region can make its voice heard by working together.
That’s a lesson we should heed much better, whether on a wider regional scale or just right here in Rainy River District. Naval-gazing must be replaced by the mindset that what’s good for one area benefits us all.

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