Fate of AbitibiBowater Fort William Mill Debated

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Minister GravelleQUEEN’S PARK – Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Michael Gravelle was under fire during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday. New Democrat MPP Howard Hampton was questioning the Minister over a move by AbitibiBowater to scrap the company’s former Fort William mill.

The former mill is likely to be dismantled and the equipment sold for scrap.

Hampton was seeking information from Gravelle if the McGuinty Government had “actively sought buyers and operators” for the mill.

Gravelle stated, “Certainly I very much empathize with the workers and their families, who were obviously hoping that this operation would get back up and running. . I think the actions that were taken by AbitibiBowater demonstrate the challenges that are faced by a company that’s in CCAA protection. This was a tough business decision”.

Here is the complete transcript from the Hansard at Queen’s Park:

FOREST INDUSTRY

Mr. Howard Hampton: My question is for the Premier. AbitibiBowater intends to sell its value-added Fort William division paper mill for scrap metal. Three hundred and fifty-three people lost good jobs when the mill shut down three years ago. Two years ago, the union worked with a prospective buyer and even hammered out a collective agreement, but the takeover fell through. I would argue that it’s in Ontario’s interest for the mill to be making value-added paper, not sold off for scrap metal. My question: Has the Premier actively sought buyers and operators for this value-added paper mill?

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

Hon. Michael Gravelle: I appreciate the question. Certainly I very much empathize with the workers and their families, who were obviously hoping that this operation would get back up and running. I think the actions that were taken by AbitibiBowater demonstrate the challenges that are faced by a company that’s in CCAA protection. This was a tough business decision.

The member made reference to some efforts that were made to have a value-added operation up and running. We made many efforts to work with them as well. Ultimately, that was not able to happen. But our government continues to work very closely with the forestry sector in terms of increasing competitiveness, in terms of providing those opportunities. We will continue to do that with all aspects of the forestry sector.

The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Supplementary.

Mr. Howard Hampton: The minister says that the government is actively working. We released freedom-of-information details yesterday that show that most of the money you boast is available to help re-establish and reposition forest industry jobs is sitting in a Toronto bank account; it hasn’t been used. In fact, in this particular case, Abitibi is saying that they will sell the mill, but it can’t be used to produce paper.

I ask again: When half of the money that the government promised to help re-establish forest industry jobs is sitting in a bank account in Toronto, and when Abitibi is saying, “Oh, we’ll sell the mill, but it can’t be used to produce value-added paper,” has the government really done anything to help these workers in this community?

Hon. Michael Gravelle: We very much have. We’ve provided significant support to a number of companies, including AbitibiBowater over the years, as you know, through the electricity rebate program, providing significant funds to all their operations in Ontario. I think it is important to remind the member that, indeed, our measures have flowed over $600 million through our incentives to the forestry sector-and over $870 million through our loan guarantee prosperity programs that has been leveraged as a result of our programs as well.

The fact is, we continue to support the industry in a significant way. That is why we are so keen to put Ontario’s wood to work. That’s why we put forward a competitive wood supply process. That’s why, indeed, we’re reviewing the forest tenure process in the province as well, because we recognize more companies need opportunities, new entrants to get back to work. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re working on. You can expect some good announcements soon.

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