Province delivers Province delivers more forestry help

The provincial government came through for the Ontario forest industry yesterday when Premier Dalton McGuinty announced $220 million in new funding to help pay for forest access roads and to reduce stumpage fees.
“We’re extraordinarily pleased,” Fort Frances Coun. Tannis Drysdale said yesterday from Toronto. “Everything we’ve asked the government to do has been done.”
Coun. Drysdale was attending the Ontario Good Roads Association/Rural Ontario Municipal Association joint conference at the time of the announcement.
The money, which will be distributed over three years, includes:
•$47 million to support the construction and maintenance costs of primary and secondary access roads;
•$70 million in refunds to the industry as a result of reducing stumpage fees retroactively for 2005-06; and
•$3 million a year for the next three years by reducing stumpage fees for poplar veneer and white birch.
This is in addition to $28 million announced in September for road maintenance, as well as $150 million in loan guarantees.
“Families and communities throughout Ontario rely on forestry to build a higher quality of life and create a brighter future,” Premier McGuinty said.
“That’s why we’re working with the sector to help control its costs and achieve its vision of a more innovative, competitive, and sustainable future,” he added.
Forest industry reps welcomed the announcement.
“The government deserves to be thanked and congratulated,” said Greenstone Mayor Michael Power, who is president of the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA).
“The measures announced today will have positive effects on not just the north, but the entire province,” he added.
“Today’s announcement is a home run by a government that has done more for the forest industry than any other government,” echoed Jamie Lim, president of the Ontario Forest Industries Association.
“It will pay huge returns for the people of this province in terms of jobs, the generation of wealth, and tax contributions from the industry that annually exceed $1 billion,” Lim added.
But Ontario NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton was not as enthusiastic about the package.
“Today’s announcement does nothing to address sky-high hydro costs that are shutting down mills, killing jobs, and hurting northern communities,” he charged in a press release issued yesterday.
“The McGuinty government’s failure to address the fundamental issue of sky-high electricity rates will unfortunately mean more mill closures and more job losses across Northern Ontario,” he warned.
Coun. Drysdale admitted the aid only would go so far.
“The announcements [yesterday] unfortunately won’t save the jobs we’ve lost, but they’ll help us improve the forestry environment and stop the bleeding,” she noted.
The Ministry of Energy did make an announcement two weeks ago, saying it would provide stable pricing on electricity provided by the Ontario Power Generation over the next three years through a price cap.
“In a perfect world, we’d see a reduction in energy costs,” Coun. Drysdale said, adding the province does appear to be taking a “serious look” at a regional energy policy.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Coun. Drysdale stressed. “The short-term goals were achieved today and now we have to look at the long-term.”