Federal forestry package on the way

A federal package to assist the forest industry is in the works and likely will be released before Christmas, but don’t expect it to solve all the problems facing the industry in Ontario, Kenora MP Roger Valley warned.
“If we created a gold-plated program, it’s still not going to help [companies] do business in Ontario,” the Liberal MP said in an interview last week.
Valley chairs the national forestry caucus, which is preparing the package in conjunction with the federal ministries of natural resources, trade, environment, and industry.
The package will be a national one, focusing on the areas of environment and research and development.
Valley said the forestry caucus is working to put together a package that will benefit the industry in all regions of the country, but that the federal government’s hands are tied regarding some of the demands from the forest industry in Ontario, including the cost of hydro.
“Provinces that want to make sure their forest industry survives, provinces that are interested in investment, they’ll have to have their part in this,” he added.
Factors that affect delivered wood costs, including hydro rates and forest road maintenance, are the domain of the provincial government.
Without significant movement in those areas, there is no guarantee companies will take advantage of the forthcoming federal package, Valley said.
“The cost of doing business in those jurisdictions is something we can’t impact,” he noted. “We can put anything we want together, but unless companies see that they can [get] value in those jurisdictions, they’re not going to involve themselves.
“If they can’t make money due to some of the provincial issues, I think they’re going to be very reluctant to participate,” he added. “You can’t build a brand new mill or redesign on old mill where you can’t pay the operating costs.”
Ontario Natural Resources minister David Ramsay last week called on the federal government to come through with support for the industry.
“The prime minister made a commitment to the people of Ontario that the federal government would support this province’s industry through a national strategy,” Ramsay said in a press release.
“A truly national strategy must treat all provinces equally, taking into account the special challenges and opportunities that exist, helping to overcome the former and embrace the latter.
“We need to encourage both reinvestment to modernize existing facilities and further investment in new opportunities,” Ramsay continued.
The federal package will focus on encouraging companies to implement new and existing technologies to make mills more efficient, Valley explained.
“A lot of environmental concerns have eaten up capital money companies would have put back into new technology,” he noted. “And rightly so. We’ve got to protect the environment.
“But they haven’t been able to invest in the technology that allows them to make a better product using less energy and at some times, unfortunately, less work force.
“We’re going to be there to make sure they have nothing but the best for environment, nothing but the best for research and development money so they can continue to make these things sustainable,” Valley stressed.
What’s important is to create a package that will be of value across Canada.
“We have to make sure it’s of value to everyone,” Valley said. “The national government is not going to provide a program for one province.”
The East and West coasts likely will benefit the most from the forthcoming package. “They’re going to see this as a tremendous boom,” Valley predicted.
The national forestry caucus was established last year after Valley pushed for it following the June, 2004 election.
“I quickly realized forestry wasn’t an issue talked about at all at the federal level,” he noted.
Valley himself hand-picked the 14 members, making sure each province and territory was represented. In areas where no Liberal MP was available, he approached senators to participate.
The focus of the caucus is on four geographical areas where the forest industry is concentrated in Canada: the East and West coasts, Ontario, and Quebec.
The east region faces different issues and challenges, Valley noted, so the goal of the caucus is to develop a package that will be of help to all four regions.
“We’re confident we’re going to put a good package together,” he said.