Working hard on three fronts

By John Rafferty
The recent AbitibiBowater bankruptcy has hit our local workers, suppliers, and families hard.
I hear each day from those who have been laid off indefinitely or shorted thousands of dollars in payments, and from retirees who are now receiving notices informing them that they no longer are pensioners, but creditors, to the company.
The scale of the damage from this bankruptcy is immense and growing, and my staff and I are working hard on at least three fronts–constituent service, legislation, and public relations—in order to help you, our communities, and this company get through the crisis.
On the service front, staff members in my Thunder Bay, Atikokan, and Fort Frances constituency offices have information and contacts within government that can help you and your family get access to a number of assistance programs.
Margaret, Mary, Val, Richard, and Christine are prepared to help you get access to the CPP, to public training and re-training programs, Employment Insurance, the disability tax credit, and other programs and services.
If you are unemployed, laid off, ill, retired, or without income, then you may qualify for many of these programs, and I especially encourage you to contact my office if your employment or income status has changed recently due to this bankruptcy or other circumstances.
On the legislative front, I have introduced a motion in Parliament which should be debated before the summer break and which would help AbitibiBowater and other Canadian pulp and paper companies better compete against their counterparts in the U.S.
AbitibiBowater and others have struggled in recent years due to declining demand for their products, but they have suffered even more recently because the U.S. government has offered unfair subsidies to their pulp and paper mills that burn a by-product known as “black liquor.”
My motion, if passed, would call on the Conservative government to negotiate an end to this unfair subsidy by June 1, or implement one for Canadian producers that is of equal or greater value.
If negotiations were to fail on this matter and a subsidy put in place, then AbitibiBowater’s Fort Frances and Thunder Bay mills would qualify for $55 million and $100 million per year, respectively, and the total benefit of this tax credit/subsidy likely would be enough to help AbitibiBowater regain solvency.
A national public relations and awareness campaign is the third front of my work on this file. Since arriving in Ottawa, I’ve been pressing the natural resources minister to take forestry issues seriously and develop a national strategy for the industry, communities, and families that have been hit during this crisis.
I’ve consistently called on the Harper government to take an active role in protecting jobs in forestry communities, and more recently to ensure the retirees of AbitibiBowater have access to their pensions during and after the bankruptcy filing.
Indeed, the entire New Democrat caucus—made up of several members from Northern Ontario, Newfoundland, B.C., and Quebec—continually have raised these issues in Question Period, in local and national media, and in public and private meetings with stakeholders and government officials.
Just two weeks ago, I held a national press conference with NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair and CEP president Dave Coles to call for a national forestry strategy, to promote my “black liquor” subsidy motion, and to raise public awareness across the country to the problems of the sector.
I think we have made some progress on this front and clearly have demonstrated that tens of thousands of job and billions of future tax revenue is at stake, and why it is in every Canadian’s interest for their government to assist the forestry sector, and AbitibiBowater, just as much as the auto sector and Chrysler and GM.

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