NDP and Liberals Clash Over Forestry Funding

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Minister GravelleTHUNDER BAY – QUEEN’S PARK – NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is slamming the McGuinty Liberals for failing to distribute promised monies to help support the ailing Northern Ontario forestry sector.

It is a critisism that Minister Michael Gravelle obviously disagrees with. “We are currently processing 35 applications – representing over $1 billion dollars in new investments,” states Gravelle, the Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.

Gravelle adds, “We are committed to ensuring taxpayers dollars are spent responsibly.  We have to ensure that legal agreements are in place and work on the project is completed before we reimburse companies for their expenses”.

The NDP counter that not enough is being done. Andrea Horwath referenced a freedom-of-information requested submitted by the Ontario NDP which found that nearly half of the $500-million in forestry sector assistance promised by the McGuinty government sits unused.

“Five years ago, the government promised $500-million in forestry sector assistance,” she charged during today’s Question Period.

Minister Gravelle counters, “We are currently processing 35 applications – representing over $1 billion dollars in new investments”.

“A freedom-of-information request submitted by my office found that $236-million sits unused. It is scandalous that hundreds of millions of dollars were left untouched as job losses decimated forestry communities across the North.”

“More importantly, why do hundreds of millions of forestry dollars sit in a Toronto bank account while families in Northern Ontario continue to lose good jobs?” Horwath asked the Premier.

Horwath also sharply criticized the government’s refusal to provide a complete list of companies that have received public money and demanded to know why the Premier is hiding the details of $180-million worth of government grants and loans.

Part of the issue is that in some cases, a company will decide not to do a project that they may have wanted to do. The funds would then, according to well-placed sources, not be transferred because the company had decided not to go forward.

The news comes a few days after an announcement that the proposed start-up for Terrace Bay Pulp is going to be delayed yet again. According to documents released by the NDP, the company had received $488,888,000 back in 2007.

Right now NetNewsledger.com is told that a promise from the province of a further $25,000,000 would only go forward once the remainder of funding is in place to get the mill running.

Not all of the money that has come from the province has worked out. In the case of Thunder Bay Fine Papers, the provincial help, $1.5 million from the Forest Prosperity Fund and loan guarantees of $12,700,000 were not enough to get the mill into operation.

Sources tell NetNewsledger.com that one of the reasons the full amount of money has not been spent is that the process only allows for disclosure once the announcement is made public.

Here is a copy of the Freedom of Information Document released today by the NDP:

Forest Funds Ontario

Here is the transcript from the Ontario Legislature:

FOREST INDUSTRY

Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is to the Premier. Later this week, I’ll be in the Timiskaming area, in Marathon and Thunder Bay. Families in these communities have been hit very hard by the forestry crisis. Five years ago, the government promised $500 million in forestry sector assistance. A freedom-of-information request submitted by my office found that $236 million, nearly half of that fund, sits unused. My question is this: Why do hundreds of millions of forestry dollars sit in a Toronto bank account while families in northern Ontario continue to lose good jobs?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry.

Hon. Michael Gravelle: I certainly look forward to seeing the leader at our Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association meeting in Marathon as well. Let me tell you that I will be there along with some of my colleagues. We look forward to being able to speak to them about the good news that came out of the Ontario budget of a couple of weeks ago that obviously has been received extremely well in Thunder Bay, northwestern Ontario and all across northern Ontario.

In terms of the forest sector initiatives, I think the member knows very well that, indeed, we have made significant incentives to the forestry sector that have helped keep mills open, that have helped reopen other ones and that will be able to put us in a position to help others as we go through these challenging times.

The fact is that we’ve uploaded costs to the province that previously were part of the responsibility of the companies. This party actually brought those responsibilities down to them. We look forward to bringing forward more incentives, including the wood supply competition that’s going-

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Thank you. Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: I’m going to actually share the FOI information that I have with the Premier and his minister and ask a page to bring it over to the minister, because, notwithstanding what he says, he should know very well that in Thunder Bay region alone, nine paper machines have been closed.

Not only were hundreds of millions of dollars left untouched as job losses decimated forestry communities in the north; this government refuses to provide a complete list of the companies that have actually received the public money. Large parts of that list, large parts of the information that we’ve requested, are simply blacked out. Why is the Premier hiding the details of $180-million worth of government grants and loans?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: The facts are very, very clear. Overall, Ontario’s forest sector programs under our government, which are unprecedented and were never done previously, have leveraged more than $870 million in new private sector investments, a huge amount-through our forest sector prosperity fund, $205 million; our loan guarantee program, $141 million; the northern pulp and paper electricity rebate system, $94 million going directly into the pockets of the companies; and how about the $296 million in road construction maintenance that was uploaded back to the province; stumpage relief, which is obviously hugely significant to them as well; and forest inventory funding that has gone forward-there is example upon example.

Again, we are also looking at new opportunities through the competitive wood supply process. That application process closed on March 31. We look forward to putting Ontario’s wood to work, and I know there’s tremendous enthusiasm all across northern Ontario.

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