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Forest industry hot topic at debate

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FORT FRANCES—The four candidates vying for the Kenora-Rainy River riding weighed in on what they’ll do to ensure there will be a future for regional industry, among other issues, during Tuesday night’s forum at the Civic Centre.

Incumbent NDP MPP Howard Hampton, Liberal candidate Mike Wood (Dryden), PC candidate Penny Lucas (Kenora), and Green Party hopeful JoJo Holiday (Kenora) spent a good deal of time addressing the question of what would they do to help the troubled forestry sector.

“The best way to keep our forests healthy, active, and bringing in the carbon we need is to keep it renewed, keep it harvested, and to keep it growing as vigorously as possible,” said Wood.

“Our forests are one of the largest opportunities,” he added. “We have an abundant renewable resource that can produce many other products than 2x4s and paper.

“Yes, we’re going to still need newsprint, yes, we’re going to need fine paper, yes, we’re going to need 2x4s and OSB. Those will continue but the economy will transition.

“The world is not walking away from the forest. It’s looking for new things to do with it,” he stressed.

Wood noted the McGuinty government has invested $1 billion in the Forest Prosperity Fund, and is asking the industry, “What would you like to do?”

“I think it’s a travesty we’ve wasted so much time talking about energy,” he remarked. “I can tell you right here and right now, the forest industry today could get its energy for free and it wouldn’t matter.

“The rest of the world is working on efficiency, they’re not working on subsidy,” he argued. “People in Indonesia and China are making paper and shipping it to Dryden for less than it costs to produce it here.

“We need to be producing things of higher value from our forests,” Wood continued. “The technology is here, it’s now, and we need to be using it.

“We need to support our existing industry, but we also need to invigorate the other ones.”

Wood asked how Hampton and the NDP could vote against the $1 billion Forest Prosperity Fund when some of those fund have helped the biomass boiler being built at the Fort Frances mill?

“The McGuinty government announces and re-announces and re-announces and re-announces their so-called $1 billion fund,” said Hampton.

“But the CIBC, which does most of the forest sector financing, issued a report three months ago which said there won’t be much take-up with this fund because pulp and paper mills are already struggling and aren’t interested in taking on more debt,” he countered.

“And the second point they made was this fund simply doesn’t address the need,” added Hampton. “As of March of this year, only eight percent of this $1 billion fund had been distributed in any way.

“Now it’s true that once the election was called, all of a sudden there were announcements everywhere. But go ask the people of Atikokan how authentic some of those announcements have been.

“The people of Atikokan will tell you they’re completely phony,” he charged.

While Northwestern Ontario has been losing forest-sector jobs, Manitoba has added 1,500 new ones, continued Hampton.

“There’s a reason for that—Manitoba’s hydro rates are three cents a kilowatt hour for pulp mills and paper mills. Here, they’re closer to six cents a kilowatt hour.”

He added that when mills were closed in Kenora , Thunder Bay, and other communities, the production was moved to Quebec for the same reason.

“The forest sector has an excellent future,” said Hampton. “If you look at that’s happening in the western U.S. states, they’re burning up, their climate’s changing.

“If you look at what’s happening in B.C., they’re going to have to accelerate their cut or the western pine beetle is going to get most of the forest. In two years, their harvest is going to decline precipitously, which creates opportunities for us.

“But no one’s going to invest if you’re charging seven cents a kilowatt hour for electricity,” Hampton argued.

Hampton noted the paper sector needs to make some adjustments, as newsprint is declining, while fine paper is increasing in demand, as is liner board.

“What our mills need is the opportunity to move to some of those new possibilities. But they’re not getting that help,” he said.

“The PC government will encourage innovation, partnership, and investment in Ontario’s forestry sector while reducing the regulatory burden on forestry companies without sacrificing standards,” said Lucas.

“We will provide safe, reliable energy supplied to the forestry sector to develop modern, 21st-century opportunities while maintaining a responsible stewardship,” she added.

“I think it’s up to the government create a climate for business, not get into business themselves,” she stressed. “The PC’s plan to create this climate in Northwestern Ontario.

“I believe we can do more with the forest than cut down the trees and make paper. There’s a lot of ideas out there, a lot of entrepreneurs out there that could do the things they’d like to if the climate was there, the taxes were fair, the energy was inexpensive,” noted Lucas.

“And I believe the Conservative government is looking in that direction and that’s what they want to do.”

“We live in the oldest and largest forest in the world. This forest is important.” said Holiday. “We can’t think that we can gain wealth immediately and not have an effect in the long-term.

“So we have to look at the long-term. We have to work at innovations and creating a new industry within the forest,” she stressed.

“We have to work closely with the First Nations communities,” she added. “We can’t keep destroying the communities without compensating them for the forest that’s taken away.

“I’m looking at all the paper that’s available to us right now, and as technology continues to boom, paper might be obsolete anyway. The oil will be obsolete one day.

“We have to look at the world long-term, the world in our children and great-grandchildren’s eyes, not just our eyes,” Holiday stressed. “Right now, it’s our responsibility to find a way to make a new economy and to sustain a living within the forest.”

Holiday suggested agriculture could be a viable industry, not only to provide food and even clothing (made of hemp, for instance) for the population of the region, but for export.

Representatives from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, and Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association also asked candidates questions about education funding.

B93•FM asked them about economic development while the Westend Weekly inquired about taxation.

Elections Ontario referendum resource officer Pat Brett also gave a 20-minute presentation on the electoral reform referendum coinciding with election day next Wednesday (Oct. 10).

The candidates’ forum was sponsored by the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce and Education Workers of the Rainy River District.

(Fort Frances Times)

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