Sawmill failures strengthen my resolve

I was very sad to learn this week of the announced receivership of Northern Sawmills, Atikokan Forest Products, Great West Timber, and Buchanan Northern Hardwoods.
My heart goes out to the hard-working former employees at these mills and their families, who have suffered greatly for some time.
I want you to know my offices and staff remain ready to assist you with anything you may need in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
The failure of these companies only strengthens my resolve to improve our national forestry policy and bankruptcy laws in Canada. From day one on the campaign trail several elections ago, I have heard from workers at many mills, most of them now closed, whose jobs and pension security have been under constant threat for years.
In short, they wanted—and continue to want—fairness after their years of hard work and contribution to our society and to the companies they worked so hard for.
In the case of these four companies, I’ve been told by local union representatives that these workers and their families have lost on average between $25,000-30,000 in back pay and severance pay that was owed to them.
Other workers suffering from long-term disabilities, and who received coverage of medical expenses by the company, have lost those benefits, as well.
The situation for many of these workers and families is now very serious, and I’m sure you will agree they deserve better after many years of hard work.
The failure of these companies is yet another strong indictment of the policy of inaction by our federal government on the forestry file. The Harper Conservatives have failed to respond to a decade-long crisis in this vital industry to Northwestern Ontario, and the government’s own numbers show the region continues to lose 1,000 forestry jobs a month as a result.
No one in this federal Conservative government seems to care as their policy of inaction enters its sixth year, and our families and communities continue to suffer as a result.
The biggest problem is that this Conservative government has blind faith in its own free-market theory. They seem to completely trust that the so-called “invisible hand” magically will appear and look out for the interests of working families when the economy sputters and employers fail.
We see again this week that their blind faith has been misplaced. With so many recent and tragic examples (from Nortel to Air Canada to General Motors), there is no reasonable explanation as to why the Conservative government has failed to amend our bankruptcy laws or create a national severance and pension insurance plan to help workers who lose their jobs and pensions through no fault of their own.
Failing to assist the struggling forestry is a serious failure of leadership, but not moving to help workers and their families once their companies go under has proven to be a catastrophic one.
All but 12 Conservative MPs voted against Bill C-501, which would have secured the severance pay that was owed to these workers had it been in place at the time, and which could still secure the severance pay and pensions of more than six million other hard-working Canadians.
The signs in Ottawa are that the Conservative opposition to C-501 is strengthening—and that Liberal support is wavering.
After these and other recent events, I will continue to rally as much support as I can for this much-needed legislation, but it needs the assistance of either the Conservatives or the Liberals to become law.
In the short-term, my staff and I are prepared to help workers and families gain access to any and all government services, benefits, or assistance programs they may qualify for in the wake of this disappointing and frustrating turn of events.
Our thoughts are with you today and we are ready to help.
Here, my staff (Richard and Chris) can be reached at 140 Fourth St. W., Fort Frances, Ont., P9A 3B8, or by calling 274-9313 or faxing 274-3597.

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