Forest industry keeps on the heat Local summit coming up Sept. 13

Lobbying partners in the forestry sector have pledged to keep their demands in the spotlight even after Premier Dalton McGuinty’s promise two weeks ago to offer help to the industry in crisis.
“We’re continuing to apply pressure to make sure it doesn’t lose any of its heightened momentum,” said Michael Power, president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association and mayor of Greenstone. “We are not just continuing to wait.”
Power attended the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference held in Toronto earlier this month where McGuinty’s pledge was made.
“From the NOMA point of view, I felt we had made our point, they had heard us,” he noted. “Certainly NOMA took control of the annual AMO meeting. The forestry crisis and the ‘We Care’ campaign dominated the convention, dominated the questions to ministers, all of whom discussed it.”
The Premier took time to meet with northern mayors and the NOMA executive committee for more than an hour at the conference to discuss the forestry issue.
“I was very heartened by what he said. He was very firm in saying that he recognized the forest industry was a significant player in the economy of Ontario—that this was not just a northern issue, that this was an all-Ontario issue—and I think that was really important, and that the government of Ontario was in the forest business to stay and that they intended to be a winner in that business in the same way that they are in the auto business to stay and are a winner in that business,” Power said.
“He did make a commitment that he will be announcing, together with the Honourable David Ramsay [Minister of Natural Resources,] a package dealing with that industry around the four key points that we have been stressing from the beginning,” he added.
Those four key points are:
•a business climate competitiveness fund, or “prosperity fund,” similar to the package offered to the automotive sector;
•a 50 percent fuel tax credit on the provincial portion of the tax. This would be applied when hauling fibre from the forest to the mills;
•a reliable energy supply at reasonable prices; and
•for the province to assume 100 percent of the construction and maintenance costs of primary logging roads and 50 percent of the costs of secondary roads, as many of these roads are used by people other than forest industry employees.
“We’re not looking for a handout,” Power stressed. “We’re looking for an investment by the government in a very significant part of the economy of this province.”
McGuinty said the package would be announced before the end of September.
“He was very plain that he didn’t want to make announcements that they hadn’t thoroughly thought out,” Power said.
Last week, Ontario NDP leader and Kenora-Rainy River MPP Howard Hampton chastised the Liberal government for being too slow to respond to the crisis.
“It has taken the McGuinty government a year and the loss of thousands of jobs to understand that their forest policy and their hydroelectricity policy is killing jobs,” Hampton argued.
Power said the important thing is that the understands there is a problem and are willing to do something about it.
“I appreciate Howard [Hampton]’s role as the leader of a political party that isn’t in government and I understand his role as one of being critical,” he said. “Maybe he has a point. I am just delighted on behalf of my colleagues that we have gotten our message across.”
“The fact it took us longer than we had hoped is immaterial if the end result is good,” he concluded.
Last month, Abitibi-Consolidated announced it would permanently close one paper machine in Kenora in October of this year and stop the second indefinitely.
John Weaver, the company’s president and CEO, said in a press release that the company would consider restructuring the mill to operate with one machine, should the Ontario government come up with “an innovative plan to help mitigate Kenora’s production costs.”
Last Tuesday, Cascades announced it would close one paper machine and its converting operations in Thunder Bay. The company cited “non-competitive operating costs, high energy costs in Ontario, and the appreciation of the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar” as the main factors in the decision.
Locally, Coun. Tannis Drysdale said plans are on for a town hall meeting Tuesday, Sept. 13 to inform local citizens about the state of the forest industry and its importance to the region and the economy.
Last month, Dryden held a town meeting with the same goal. The meeting drew about 370 concerned residents.
Ear Falls has planned a similar meeting for Sept. 12.