In your editorial A Waste of Time (March 24) you refer to the staged and scripted exchange regarding the Ontario Forest Tenure Modernization Act during question period Wednesday between MPPs Bill Mauro and Michael Gravelle.
I have been closely following the parliamentary debate on the proposed forest tenure act and I’m very disappointed with the standard, scripted answers from the Liberal Party, especially Minister Michael Gravelle.
I have an intense interest in the debate as I do forest management planning for the McKenzie Forest Products mill located in Sioux Lookout/Hudson.
Our mill was asked by Gravelle’s Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry (MNDMF) to go through a wood supply competitive process to retain our traditional (since the 1960s) woodsupply in the Lac Seul Forest.
We were informed in February by way of a letter from MNDMF that we were unsuccessful in our bid to retain our wood supply. This will result in the permanent closure of the Hudson Sawmill and the loss of 300 full-time well-paying jobs.
Local people will be left with nothing but watching chip trucks go down the highway to some other community.
McKenzie Forest Products was invited by MNDMF to participate in a debriefing Thursday regarding the denial of our wood supply.
A McKenzie employee emphasized the loss of jobs to which an MNDMF employee responded “I’m sorry for the loss to your community.”
This cavalier attitude by MNDMF is unacceptable. The employees of McKenzie and the surrounding communities of Hudson and Sioux Lookout and First Nations of Lac Seul and Slate Falls have expressed deep concern to MNDMF to no avail over the loss of a major local employer.
The following is an excerpt of an exchange during question period on March 21 between MPP Randy Hillier and Minister Gravelle, one which Gravelle didn’t stage:
Mr. Randy Hillier: While he’s revitalizing the forestry sector, there’s nothing left with it. Minister, you’ve hit the forestry industry with high hydro rates, more red tape and higher prices. Environmental NGOs proclaimed two years ago that they played you and your government like a fiddle.
Companies like McKenzie Forest Products near Sioux Lookout have been waiting for one thing: a stable and certain wood supply. If they don’t get it soon, they’re through. Your forestry experiments are putting those 330 jobs in jeopardy, and you know that. You’ve cut off the wood supply with your tenure review, and now you’re creating these tree LHINs to make sure that no forestry company survives your war against the industry.
We can see the results. Under your watch, we’ve lost 40,000 forestry jobs and 60 mills. Minister, why has the McGuinty government waged a war against Ontario’s . . .”
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Thank you. Minister?
Hon. Michael Gravelle: It is so sad that the member will not see the positive news that’s coming out of the forestry sector, particularly relating to the wood supply competition. Last week, we announced wood supply offers to two operations in the Greenstone area that are going to bring 250 people back to work in the Geraldton-Longlac-Nakina area. We’ve made 16 offers that have been out there publicly; we’ve made other offers as well. Over 1,000 jobs are coming back to the forestry sector.
Part of that process, may I say, is also working very closely with industry on the modernization of our forest tenure system, one that all members of this House told us we needed to move forward on, and indeed we are doing that. I’m delighted that we’re having an opportunity to debate it in second reading, I’m looking forward to it moving towards committee, and I’m looking forward to third reading so we can indeed revitalize the forestry sector with our wood supply competition, bringing thousands back to work and also modernizing the tenure system in a fashion that will bring the jobs back to the people of Ontario.
Gravelle is taking credit for putting 250 people back to work. These people would have returned to work without any wood supply competition when the markets rebounded.
A more accurate statement would read: Unlike McKenzie employees, these people did not lose their jobs because of the wood supply competition.
Gravelle and the Liberals need to quit playing “government games” as your editorial put it and start answering the hard questions.
After all, they’re fiddling with the lifeblood of several northern communities and the livelihoods of hundreds of people.
McKenzie Forest Products