By John Rafferty
This week’s column is an excerpt from a speech I gave last week during a national press conference I held with NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair and Dave Coles, president of the Communication, Energy, and Paperworkers Union.
We used the event to call on the Harper government to implement a national forestry strategy and protect the pensions of workers in the industry:
“In the first week of March, I sent a letter to [Natural Resources] minister [Lisa] Raitt that asked her to convene a national forestry summit to work with other levels of governments and stakeholders in creating an effective national forestry strategy.
“It took Ms. Raitt’s office five weeks to reply. She said ‘no.’ In her response, she cited the aforementioned government policies among a few others and concluded that: ‘I believe these measures will help Canada weather the global recession while ensuring our forestry sector comes out of the recession stronger than ever.’
“Her letter arrived at my office last Wednesday [April 15]. The following day, AbitibiBowater filed for bankruptcy protection and the jobs and pensions of more than 11,000 Canadian workers, including 7,000 in Quebec, were put in immediate jeopardy.
“This minister and Mr. Harper are completely oblivious to the scale of the crisis hitting the forestry sector and the economic tragedy that is unfolding in many small communities and households right across Canada.
“The combination of this government’s misguided and wrongheaded policies, massive job losses in the forestry industry over the last two years, and the potential loss of tens of thousands of additional jobs in the sector over the coming year necessitates immediate action by the federal government.
“That is why I am calling on the Conservative government, today, to announce that they immediately prepare and implement a national forestry strategy to help the forestry industry, communities, workers, and their families in this sector survive the crisis.
“As part of a national forestry strategy, I am calling on the government to carefully consider and implement the following measures: eliminate the two-week waiting period for Employment Insurance and grant a further extension of the benefit period, beyond the recently announced five-week extension, to workers of hard hit industries, including the forestry sector.
“With the co-operation of the provinces, guarantee the existing pension and severance entitlements to workers in the forestry sector, including those that may be affected by the AbitibiBowater bankruptcy.
“Draft legislation to provide a tax credit for the newsprint and fine paper industry that will provide incentives to those producers to move into other types of forestry product manufacturing and will require those companies to set up their new operations in the same communities as they currently operate in.
“Support and immediately act upon a new private member’s motion that I have tabled which will level the playing field for the pulp and paper industry in Canada by either negotiating an end to unfair U.S. subsidies, or provide an equivalent tax credit for the Canadian industry that will meet or exceed the ‘black liquor’ tax credit regime in the United States.
“And finally, I am calling on the government to convene a first ministers’ meeting every two years to evaluate the effectiveness of the national forestry strategy and to co-ordinate further action with the provinces of Canada as required to further address the forestry crisis.
“A national forestry strategy should have all of the above policies and provisions included in it, but at the very least must contain clearly defined, co-ordinated, and actionable items to help Canada’s forestry producers and manufacturers, forestry-dependent towns, and our forestry workers and their families survive the current crisis in the short-term, and not just position it for the long-term.”
By John Rafferty