Hampton calls for investment in forestry

NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton brought his battle for Northern Ontario’s forestry industry to Queen’s Park last week.
Hampton asked Premier Dalton McGuinty what he and his government would do to protect the industry, which has seen layoffs and mill closures in recent months.
“During the first year of your government, the Northern Ontario economy lost 6,000 jobs,” Hampton told the legislature Thursday.
“At the same time, [we’ve] seen the McGuinty government invest $500 million in an auto sector investment strategy to sustain jobs, $125 million a year in the television and movie production industry to sustain jobs, $400 million in the Windsor Casino to sustain jobs, yet your government seems to have no investment strategy for the north,” he charged.
Hampton cited Smooth Rock Falls, Terrace Bay, and Dryden, where more than 300 jobs have been lost.
“The economic activity has declined by $21 million, the Ontario Works caseload is up by 40 percent, and usage at the local food bank is up by 30 percent,” noted Hampton.
“This is happening already. [And] there are more mill closures possible in Kenora and Thunder Bay,” he warned.
Recent increases in hydro rates in Ontario are particularly difficult for the forestry industry, which relies heavily on hydro, Hampton said.
“Your hydro policy is actually killing jobs because, for example, of the 12 percent increase in hydro rates,” he argued. “Where is your investment strategy for forest industry communities when they really need it?”
Energy minister Dwight Duncan said he, Premier McGuinty, and other ministers have met with paper mills and the unions that represent their workers.
“We are appointing an industrial co-generation facilitator to help deal with the real problems that are faced by the industry, by that sector, not only in Ontario,” Duncan said.
“I will remind you that it’s an industry and sector that’s going through challenges all over the world,” Duncan added.
“Electricity is clearly a challenge for them. There is no doubt about that. The softwood lumber issue is a challenge for them. The amount of wood available is a challenge for them,” he noted.
The facilitator will be announced by the government soon, Duncan said.
“The industry has told us that they believe that will be an important step to help them deal with energy issues they are confronted with on a day-to-day basis,” he remarked.
Natural Resources minister David Ramsay said he established a competitive forest sector minister’s council in November, and has received the interim report.
Using that report, he will make recommendations to cabinet on how to respond.
Northern Development and Mines minister Rick Bartolucci questioned Hampton’s numbers, saying employment in Northern Ontario has, in fact, increased from January, 2004 to January, 2005.
“Some 4,400 new jobs have been created in the north since January, 2004,” he said.
He also called into question the NDP’s record of job creation in the natural resources-based industry.
“In northeastern Ontario, the number of people working in the forestry, mining, oil, and gas industries plummeted from 27,700 to 21,700 between 1990 and 1995,” Bartolucci said.
“The premier might want to read his own economic statement issued at the end of November, which details the loss of 6,000 jobs in Northern Ontario,” Hampton countered.
Bartolucci also praised his government’s efforts to ensure northern prosperity.
“Our government has been very aggressive with its northern prosperity plan, a plan that includes northerners in the decision-making,” he said. “We have been very active with our ‘grow bonds’ pilot project.
“We are providing northerners with the tools necessary to ensure that there is sustainable growth in Northern Ontario for the first time since 1990,” he added.
Hampton toured northern communities earlier this year to promote his plan for the forestry industry, including an investment strategy from the provincial government, a separate hydro policy for northern and southern Ontario, and to end the hydro rate hikes for Northern Ontario industries.