A petition bearing 2,530 signatures, which calls on the province to ensure wood allocation for a potential buyer of the mill here, was delivered to local MPP Greg Rickford's constituency office on Scott Street shortly after noon yesterday.
The minister was in Kenora at the time but his constituency assistant, Troy Kadikoff, received the petition and said he would pass on the group's verbal comments.
The key message was that the Sustainable Forest Licence (SFL) held by Resolute Forest Products indicates that wood harvested from the Crossroute Forest is first and foremost for the Fort Frances mill—and this agreement needs to be honoured.
“We wanted to ensure any potential buyer has a dedicated and affordable fibre source,” said Christine Hampton, who spearheaded the petition.
“We want to see the [SFL] agreement enforced.”
The petition specifically calls on the province, including Premier Doug Ford, Rickford, and Natural Resources and Forestry minister John Yakabuski to ensure wood fibre allocation is available to any purchaser intending to operate the local mill.
“[Rickford] represents our community," noted Hampton. "I think for years the issue came up that we, perhaps, had an MPP that was not in the government of power.”
“Now we find ourselves in a situation where we have an MPP representing our area,” she added.
“He's a member of the [majority] government and we expect him to act.”
Hampton said the petition also aims to demonstrate that the people are 100 percent behind Fort Frances council in encouraging an honest and fair transaction of the mill here.
By dropping off the petition, she hopes Rickford will hold a meeting in short order with Yakabuski, as well as others in the cabinet and government, to help facilitate a mill sale.
Hampton also stressed this is not just a fight over the mill, it's also one for town council's ability to plan financially.
The town previously has stated demolishing the mill will result in a 7.6 percent tax hit.
The petition, which had been circulated for about three weeks, was delivered now due to Resolute's competitive bidding process for the mill closing this Friday (March 15).
“We pulled this petition purposely before the March 15 deadline because we want to send a clear message to the government, and also to Resolute, about what the wishes of the people are,” Hampton remarked.
Mayor June Caul said Sean Twomey of Repap Resources Group was in town on Friday and expressed discouragement over Resolute's reaction to its interest in purchasing the mill.
However, she noted that is not going to change the company's plan to still put in a bid by this Friday.
Lawrence Alexander, who was among the small group that formally delivered the petition to Rickford's office yesterday, noted how the forest is going to be managed will change in April, 2020 with the Enhanced Sustainable Forestry Licence Act.
He said that makes facilitating a sale of the mill to a redeveloper before that date necessary for Resolute to maintain complete control over the Crossroute Forest's wood supply.
Mayor Caul, meanwhile, made note of how there is more than enough wood fibre here for several mills to operate, and that Resolute's mill in Thunder Bay doesn't have to go down in order for the Fort Frances one to start back up.
She is very displeased that the wood designated for the mill here is being controlled by Resolute and sent to Thunder Bay.
“The bottom line is the wood is designated for Fort Frances," the mayor stressed. "It should never have been given away, and that's where I get frustrated with the ministry.”
She said she knows it was the former Liberal government that gave away the wood rights. But she also added if it was that easy to have the wood taken, it shouldn't be this difficult to get it back.
“That wood should be back here so I guess that's my biggest frustration," Mayor Caul reiterated. "Why are we still waiting and hoping that it will be given back to us?”
Fort Frances Coun. Andrew Hallikas said however the mill sale turns out, “the wood still needs to be available as a resource to First Nations, settlers, and everybody in this community.”
“The government is the steward of the resources of Ontario," he remarked. "But the resources are for the people of Ontario and they should be used by the people that live in the area where the resources are.”
“If Ontario is going to be 'open for business,' we would like to be 'open for business,' too,” Hampton stressed.
“All of Ontario needs to be open for business,” Coun. Hallikas agreed.
While dropping off the petition, Mayor Caul indicated she and two other councillors will be meeting with Rickford in person tomorrow to discuss the issue and hopefully find a solution.
Hampton said going forward, she would like to hear a response from Rickford and would encourage others to continue to write e-mails, pick up the phone, and express their views online with respect to the sale of the mill here.
“In these types of situations, we look to our government to lead and we want to see some leadership,” she reasoned.
“We want some answers and we want some action.”