Communities rally around Kenora

A mere 48 hours after Abitibi-Consolidated announced plans to halt operations at its mill in Kenora in October, Mayor David Canfield had a simple message for his counterparts across Northwestern Ontario.
“Give us some support, that’s what we need,” the mayor said from his office Friday morning.
After all, the mayor said, supporting one another is the only way communities in this region can combat sky-high electricity costs and other provincial regulations that are spelling doom for the forestry sector.
“I think we’ve come to a point in history where our big brothers in southern Ontario have been making our decisions for us for some time,” Mayor Canfield said.
“I think now the proof is in the pudding that maybe they’re not as smart as they thought they were and maybe it’s time we start taking some control in Northern Ontario—start taking some control of our own destiny.
“This has gone on for too long,” he stressed. “It’s just bad decision after bad decision after bad decision and we’ve had enough. It’s time to turn it around.”
Mayor Canfield’s sentiments are being echoed across the region, including right here in Rainy River District.
“The plight of the forestry industry in Northern Ontario is a paramount concern to all municipalities in our area, particularly the ones that have paper mills,” said Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig.
“It’s a great concern that faces the north as a whole.”
“We absolutely face that challenge,” echoed Mayor Dan Onichuk. “I hate to say it but . . . thank goodness it’s not us.
“We’re always going to support the other communities because tomorrow it could be us.”
“Each community in Northwest Ontario depends on the others,” said Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Ken Boshcoff. “We can’t let anyone sink. We need everybody to pull together on this.”
For his part, Mayor Canfield, a long-time employee at the Kenora-based mill, said he thinks Northwestern Ontario’s political leaders are up to the challenge.
“The mayors and reeves, the NOMA board and executive, we’re all on the same page,” he said. “We all feel the same way.”
Furthermore, Mayor Canfield said he’s confident that if all the municipalities within the region band together, they are capable of making a real difference.
“You betcha,” he remarked. “I honestly believe that we can.
“I think we’ve come to the point where we need some real positive change in Northern Ontario and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens,” he vowed.
Prior to last Wednesday’s announcement, the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association canvassed its members for funding to hire a high-profile lobby group to help bring the plight of the forestry industry to light at Queen’s Park.
NOMA asked each municipality to make a per capita donation, calculated at 40 cents per resident, and covered the cost within two weeks’ time.
NOMA president Michael Power, who also is the mayor of Greenstone, said that’s a good indication community leaders understand how important the forestry sector is to the economy of the northwest.
“Yes, municipal leaders are very well aware of it,” Power said. “They are putting their money where their mouths are.”
NOMA also organized a letter-writing campaign, identifying about 200 communities in southern Ontario that are impacted by the forestry industry and writing to mayors and councillors to open their eyes to the situation.
Meanwhile, Boshcoff, who has, along with Kenora MP Roger Valley and Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Joe Comuzzi, been keeping a close eye on the forestry sector, said residents can expect the federal government to get involved, too.
“The answer is yes, there will be a positive response on the federal level,” he pledged.