Pushing for national forestry strategy

I feel the $1-billion Pulp and Paper Green Transformation Fund offered to the forestry sector by the Conservative government is wholly inadequate and will not save a single mill, job, or pension.
Since I believe it’s the duty of elected representatives to do more than oppose the work of others, this column will outline some of policies I think are needed if the forestry and pulp and paper sectors are to be saved from decimation in the short-term—and become profitable again moving forward.
What I’m proposing is a national strategy for forestry.
If such a strategy were in place today, it would require the federal government to take action on a number of fronts: eliminating or countering unfair U.S. subsidies, providing emergency loan guarantees for struggling companies, extending EI benefits for forestry workers, protecting private pensions, and establishing new tax credits to encourage value-added investment in forestry communities.
These policies would work in harmony, making each more effective by the introduction of the others, and taken together would constitute an effective national strategy for the forestry sector.
The most immediate threat, which could wipe out the entire pulp and paper industry in Canada, is the existence of unfair U.S. government subsidies for American mills.
While the “black liquor” subsidy should be coming to an end on Dec. 31, there is talk of a possible extension of the program, or worse—the introduction of a new “super subsidy” twice the size.
Our industry simply cannot survive in a competitive market by producing goods that are 25 percent more expensive to start with. Any forestry strategy must include Ottawa negotiating an end to these U.S. subsidies, or matching those subsidies in Canada at a cost of between of $2 billion and $5 billion annually.
Credit markets are said to be freeing up, but it still is essential that the federal government provide loan guarantees for large and small companies with significant operations in the forestry sector.
Banks will lend money if they know they will be paid back, so making loan guarantees available to giant companies like AbitibiBowater, and small local suppliers alike, would ensure these companies can continue to meet their payroll obligations and modernize their operations.
The costs of such a program would be trimmed because a national forestry strategy would reduce the likelihood of such failures in the first place.
Extending EI benefits for forestry workers and protecting private pensions in the sector also are needed to protect families and small local economies. Doing so would ensure that active and retired workers can access the money they are owed.
Workers would be able to keep paying their bills and purchasing goods—maintaining a consumer base for non-forestry small business owners whose enterprises would be the next to close after the mill.
Finally, moving forward and looking ahead, the future of the industry could be secured by targeted policies aimed at improving efficiency and encouraging future investment by new and existing players.
Adding a value-added tax credit program that escalates along with the level of production that is undertaken locally would encourage local job creation in forestry towns.
Cutting down a tree gets you nothing. Making a chair, or roll of paper, gets you more. Packaging the product gets you more yet.
In broad strokes, this is what a national forestry would—and should—look like. It would include a variety of policies that become more cost-effective and efficient once they are implemented as a package.
Choosing to implement just one or two of these measures, as the Conservative government has done, is costly and ineffective.
That is why the New Democrats and I will continue to push for a comprehensive national forestry strategy–to save money, help companies, create jobs, and protect pensions.

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