Help forest industry

Last month, several Northern Ontario MPs and MPPs met in Thunder Bay to discuss the challenges facing our forestry sector.
Tens of thousands of jobs already have been lost in the sector over the last five years, and we used this meeting to discuss the effect this has had upon our families and to find new ways to get all levels of government to co-operate so we can protect the jobs that remain.
We know how important the forestry industry is to our local economy and in our lives, but people in Canada’s large cities try, but ultimately fail, to understand.
It’s estimated a full 35 percent of Northwestern Ontario’s economy is dependent upon or linked to the forestry industry. In Fort Frances, 67 percent of the economy is linked to this industry.
The federal government is—and should be—concerned about the struggles facing the auto industry, but it also must remember that no major city in Ontario is as dependent upon that industry as we are upon forestry.
In our December meetings, we were told the forestry industry requires a practical plan that will sustain and create jobs and protect workers who are facing layoffs. Our logging and processing companies also told us they need reliable access to affordable credit just to maintain their existing operations.
The federal government should help make new and existing credit available to those companies, and introduce new programs or initiatives that encourage consumers and businesses alike to spend on construction projects which will drive up demand for forestry products in Canada at a time when U.S. orders are shrinking.
There are many other tools at the disposal of the federal government, but meaningful assistance for the forestry industry will have be counted in the billions to help us during this downturn.
Assisting the forestry industry and our families makes sense from both an economic and social perspective. The average wage for a forestry sector job was $46,300 in 2005, which was $6,000 more than the average wage for all other jobs across Canada.
Investing money to save these jobs makes sense since they deliver a significant amount of tax revenue to all levels of government, and StatsCan has found that each forestry sector job creates about four other jobs in other parts of the economy.
Of course, the most important concern I have about the current crisis is the effect it will have upon families in our forestry communities. The federal government must help companies survive, but it also must help our families do the same.
Employment Insurance reform is crucial to helping families during this crisis, and should it be undertaken as soon as possible to get rid of the waiting periods and to ensure more workers can receive benefits.
Finally, New Democrats always have proposed using tax dollars to improve our health care system and to make expensive drugs more affordable, as well as to lower tuition fees for post-secondary education.
The cost of any of these new measures would be reasonable, but what a difference they would make for the families of Northwestern Ontario.
As the NDP’s forestry critic, I will not let this government ignore the needs of the forestry industry and our rural communities that are dependent upon it for their well-being.
Now is the time to make some of the above investments to protect our struggling forestry industry and help our families stay healthy as we build a better future in Northwestern Ontario.

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