Council backs resolution for forest hearings

FORT FRANCES—With mill closures continuing to make the headlines, town council supported a resolution from the Communications Energy and Paperworkers union to call for an all-party committee of the Ontario legislature to immediately conduct hearings throughout the province to address the forestry crisis.
CEP national rep René Lindquist was on hand to make a presentation to council at Tuesday night’s meeting, during which he made it clear that too many mills have closed in the past four years—resulting in too many jobs lost—and now is the time for a “fundamental policy shift.”
“Everyone knew that mills were on the brink in Northern Ontario. Everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before more mills began closing,” Lindquist said.
“And yet, here we are in the fall of 2006 wondering what we can do in the aftermath of this ongoing crisis.
“I’m here to tell you that this is a crisis that might well have been averted,” he added. “I share this with you because our province, by continuing to ignore the growing crisis in Northern Ontario, is courting a disaster of staggering magnitude—a disaster that is imminently avoidable, but only if we act now and act boldly.
“Yet addressing this problem alone does not even appear to be on the provincial government’s radar screen,” Lindquist charged.
“In the face of more and more mill closures, we are in danger of succumbing to a sense of powerlessness and resignation; to a growing belief that the system is so huge and complicated that taking it on seems daunting, if not futile.”
But this attitude has to change because time is running out. Incremental change is not going to work and a fundamental policy shift is needed, stressed Lindquist.
“The next year is critical to ensure that we create the conditions for change,” he said. “We need an emergency legislative committee hearing on the forestry crisis; hearings that would be held in Fort Frances.
“They need to hear directly from you.”
Lindquist and CEP Local 92 recording secretary Allan T. Bedard outlined the “Eight-Point Plan for Forestry Solutions,” which should be on the agenda at such a meeting.
These are:
•hydro pricing—a separate electricity system for the north, where consumers pay the actual cost of power produced in the region, not the provincial average;
•tenure reform—a regionally-based timber allocation system whereby regional job creation is tied to regional logging rights;
•local manufacturing tied to timber harvesting;
•restocking and enhanced silviculture—growing more and better trees than current efforts to create more jobs and product;
•industrial diversification—companies must be encouraged to make new products for new markets with new processes, creating more jobs;
•provincial chief forester—someone who could speak authoritatively on the state on of the forests, monitor wood supply, and look at the state of the forests in areas where mills are closing to look at the effectiveness of the present forest management strategies;
•effective mill closure review process—a jobs commissioner needs to be appointed to work with mills to prevent closures, and have the power authorize tax, energy and other concessions to prevent such closures and facilitate plant sales with all of the affected parties; and
•industry support fund—a jointly-sponsored federal-provincial program to ensure services and support to communities facing shutdowns (such as job counselling and job retraining, early retirement support, and pension bridging).
NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton also was at Tuesday night’s council meeting, where he reiterated the importance of hydro pricing and the need for the province to do something about the fact that some of the cheapest electricity in the world in being produced in Northern Ontario and yet mills are paying far too much for power.
Speaking more generally to the resolution before council, Hampton said the province needs to be pushed on the eight-point plan and do something about the forestry crisis.
He added the province promised a $500 million relief package last year, and only has delivered one percent of that pledge.
While other industries, such as auto manufacturing, see job growth as a result of provincial and federal aid, the forestry sector has only seen “phony announcements.”
Hampton stressed the paper industry is not a “sunset industry” as some politicians may say, and with China’s population becoming “the largest middle class in the world,” the demand for paper is greater than ever.
He added that change is needed and that’s what the eight-point plan is about.
“I see public hearings as the next step, the next piece to me so it [the issue] is not tucked away,” said Hampton. “From my perspective, we need to force public hearings so we can get the eight points on the table.”
CEP is making similar appeals to municipal councils across Northwestern Ontario.
In related news, Bedard gave council an update on his appeal of the decision made by the town’s committee of adjustment to sever dam property from the rest of the mill, noting an Ontario Municipal Board hearing has been relocated from Toronto to Fort Frances.
A date will be known shortly.
Bedard added that in regards to the preservation of 1905 historic power agreement and Abitibi possibly creating a separate hydro-generation company, that the town can ask Abitibi “to roll the 1905 power agreement into the income trust company as a liability of the income trust.”
This would protect the power agreement, he explained, adding he consulted Harold Caley, of the law firm Caley and Wray, on this matter.
(Fort Frances Times)