QUEEN’S PARK – Bill Mauro the MPP for Thunder Bay Atikokan along with Michael Gravelle the Minister for Northern Development, Mines and Forestry were up during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on Thursday.
The topic of the question was the forest sector in Northwestern Ontario. Here is the transcript of the exchange:
Mr. Bill Mauro: My question is for the Minister of Northern Development and Mines. For years we’ve been seeing a shift in the world economy. In northwestern Ontario, where resource-based industries have for a very long time underpinned our economy, a variety of factors have impacted the viability of some of these industries. Global competition, a huge increase in the value of the Canadian dollar, a collapse in demand in the American market as a result of the global recession and the credit crisis have all created difficult economic environments across North America.
In spite of this, there continue to be good-news stories coming out of northwestern Ontario. Can the minister highlight a very recent good-news story in the forestry sector?
Hon. Michael Gravelle: I thank the member for Thunder Bay–Atikokan for the question. I’m certainly very pleased to share a good-news story about the forestry sector.
This past Monday, I was in Terrace Bay to help celebrate the reopening of the Terrace Bay Pulp mill—a great piece of news—bringing 340 people back to work. I’m very pleased that our government was able to provide a conditional loan, which allowed the company to access further funding assistance and also to have some creditor protection. As I say, 340 are people back to work and a couple hundred more in the woodland section. This means a great deal to people in Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Marathon, Nipigon and Red Rock.
This pulp mill is an extremely important asset, one that indeed means a great deal to the Terrace Bay taxpayers. It provides about 40% of the tax base to the community of Terrace Bay.
Certainly, you can tell that Mayor King couldn’t have been happier about this. He said that we’ve probably gone through the hardest time we’ve ever seen in Terrace Bay. It’s nice to see that burden lifted off—
The Speaker (Hon. Steve Peters): Thank you. Supplementary?
Mr. Bill Mauro: Thank you, Minister, and I do know how grateful Mayor Mike King was. I congratulate you on your efforts as well. I do remember very clearly, when the Premier was at NOMA last week, when that gentleman came over and thanked the Premier as well. He had three sons—one man, three sons hired back in that mill, and we know how grateful he was.
We also know that there are a significant number of supports that have been made available to forestry companies over the last number of years. More importantly, in our 2010 budget, we added more support on top of the initiatives in programs that already exist. While we can’t fix the fact that there is a diminished demand for two-by-fours because of the collapse of the US housing market, there are measures that we have taken and continue to take to support those companies still operating and to create a climate to encourage more to reopen. Can the minister please highlight some of these programs for the House?
Hon. Michael Gravelle: There is indeed more good news. I must say, to drive up to the gate at Terrace Bay Pulp and see the smoke coming out of the stack—it was a wonderful thing to see the smiles on the faces of the 340 workers.
We’ve also set the stage for a transformation in the forestry sector as it moves into a new phase. Since 2005, our government has made available over $1 billion through various programs to assist the forestry sector: a loan guarantee fund; we uploaded the road maintenance, which had been downloaded by a previous government; and the forest sector prosperity fund as well. But another example of how this sector is transforming: In 2009, our government, through the budget, committed $25 million to creating the Centre for Research and Innovation in the Bioeconomy in Thunder Bay, a tremendous announcement. This plan will coordinate the government, the companies and the secondary industries as we transform the economy.
The fact is, the forest industry is in the midst of a transformation, one that we strongly support, and we’re excited about the good news ahead.