THUNDER BAY – Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Michael Gravelle rose in the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday for First Reading of Bill 151, An Act to enact the Ontario Forest Tenure Modernization Act, 2011 and to amend the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994.
The Minister, along with the critics from the Progressive Conservatives, Randy Hillier and the New Democrats, Gilles Bisson all spoke on Bill 151.
Here are the transcripts from the Ontario Hansard of their remarks:
Hon. Michael Gravelle: I think every member of this House knows that the Ontario forest industry has suffered a number of serious setbacks, particularly in recent years. Despite this, the sector has some incredibly strong advantages. We have a large sustainable supply of quality fibre and we have a solid infrastructure. Perhaps most importantly, we have the expertise and the drive of the people who work in this sector.
Today I am very pleased to introduce a bill that, if passed, would help re-energize Ontario’s forest sector, create new jobs and attract investment while ensuring that this critical public resource continues to be managed sustainably.
Modernizing the forest tenure and pricing system would make Ontario’s timber supply and prices more responsive to market demand, create new opportunities for entrepreneurs and make it easier for aboriginal peoples and communities to effectively participate in and benefit from this sector.
This proposed reform is a very strong sign of this government’s confidence in the future of forestry. If passed, the Ontario Forest Tenure Modernization Act, 2011, would stimulate a bold rethink of how our forest sector will do business in the future. It would help ensure that forestry activities continue to benefit not only the families, the communities and the businesses that rely directly on this sector, but all Ontarians.
To achieve this, we are proposing to pursue two new governance models. First, the act, if passed, would enable us to establish local forest management corporations. They would manage crown forests and they would oversee the competitive sale of the timber in a given area. The second new governance model we would pursue is the enhanced shareholder sustainable forest licence. That would consist of a group of mills and/or harvesters that collectively form a new company to manage the crown forests.
We would continue to work with the forest industry itself, with other key stakeholders and with aboriginal peoples to further develop the operational details of the models and the implementation plans. We would certainly also work with these groups to test and to evaluate both the initial local forest management corporations and the enhanced shareholder sustainable forest licences.
The legislation introduced today was drafted after extensive consultations through public sessions, round table discussions and sessions with key industry stakeholders and aboriginal communities and organizations. We certainly listened carefully and we responded substantively to the concerns raised in the consultations. I believe that this is actually very evident from the positive response to our proposed modified approach.
For example, the Ontario Forest Industries Association calls our proposed path forward “a positive development that provides much-needed certainty for operating mills while at the same time creating opportunities for new investment in the sector.”
The Timmins Chamber of Commerce told us that the use of enhanced shareholder SFLs is in line with their request for working with an existing industry development model that is benefiting their members.
We’ve also had some very real interest expressed from some First Nations communities for the establishment of a local forest management corporation in their area, and we’re very, very excited about that.
I do want to acknowledge and thank everyone upon whose comments and advice we have relied. Earlier today, I introduced a number of people from our ministry; I want to thank them once again for the extraordinary hard work that they did.
In the weeks ahead, we will continue our consultation efforts so that interested parties clearly understand the intent of this legislation. If passed, we would also look for their advice on how best to implement it. I look forward very much to the debate.
I do want to thank especially my colleague the Minister of Natural Resources, Linda Jeffrey, for her assistance throughout this process. It was extraordinarily helpful and supportive.
Our government is absolutely committed to implementing a forest tenure and timber pricing system that works for the province of Ontario, and we want to implement change in a responsible and measured manner. I believe that the new tenure system proposed would achieve these goals and point us toward better access and better use of our very highly prized forest resources.
Randy Hillier: I guess before I start my address on this Ontario Forest Tenure Modernization Act, I will commend the minister and his ministry for providing a briefing on this bill before it was introduced into the House.
But I will say that for two years now we have been under this forest tenure review—two years of uncertainty in our forestry sector, two years of bleakness in forestry, two years when we’ve seen over 60 mills closed, over 40,000 jobs lost. And in two years’ time we have received this bill, which is really nothing more than an empty vessel. It’s 16 pages which really provide nothing other than a backtrack, one more backtrack by this Liberal government, in their obligations to the north and to our forestry.
It does do a couple of things, this bill. We do know that in those 16 pages there are a few things it does do. It does provide another vehicle for political patronage. It does create additional agencies of the Liberal government called forest management corporations, local forest management. These are additional agencies, if we don’t have enough already. We already have over 600 agencies, boards and commissions in this province, but we’re going to create a few more with this bill.
What we have seen with these agencies, boards and commissions, like the LHINs, is a very significant and very purposeful method of shielding the government from the decisions of the day. As we have seen with the LHINs, we are now seeing I guess what we would call the forestry LHINs, or the FLHINs, being created by this Liberal government.
But I think there is also very much of importance. Within this bill there are a couple of very significant components: changes to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act. Of course, we won’t know what all is going to happen because there aren’t any regulations—very few. Everything is going to be done by regulation afterwards in this bill, and I don’t know how many more years the forestry industry is going to have to suffer and wait for the regulations to be done on this. Under the changes to the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, the minister now has the ability to arbitrarily cancel licences, has the authority to cancel supplies and, in an arbitrary fashion, leave the people in our forestry industry once again with uncertainty about their future, uncertainty about their supplies. That starts on page 13 of this act.
What also is significant in this act is significant protection for the ministry, significant protection for the minister, significant protection for the local forest management corporations; that whatever they do there can be no liability, no remedy attached to those agents of the crown. That goes from page 14 through page 16 of this act: limitations on remedies, no remedies, proceedings barred, no expropriation or injurious affection, exception, exception. The crown leaves itself harmless from any of its actions but puts three or four more years of uncertainty into an already very devastated resource sector of this province.
I’m very disappointed that in two years’ time this Liberal government has achieved absolutely nothing except one more backtrack and one more slap to the people of northern Ontario. This Liberal government manages to pass the buck once more as they try to pass a bill—these are not really bills that are being introduced in this House. They’re just looking to pass the buck, not bills.
Gilles Bisson: I’ve got five minutes but it’s going to be hard to cover all that I want to say.
First of all, the government is proposing to do a fairly radical change here when it comes to the forest tenure system in the province of Ontario. My first caution is, I certainly hope to God that the government is not proposing to do all this and finish third reading this spring. If that’s what you’re asking us to do in this assembly, I think this will be short shrift to the process, and people in northern Ontario are going to be pretty skeptical of the process in the end.
This is one of these things where we’re asking to make a major shift when it comes to how we manage our forests in northern Ontario and, more importantly, how we allocate that timber to those who need it. If we’re being asked to do this in a session that I would think is going to be a fairly short one this spring—second reading, committee hearings and third reading—I would argue against that and I’ll be opposing it, if it’s just on that point alone.
I’ve gone through this before, as other members in the assembly have, in regard to changes in how to manage forests, first under Alan Pope, before I was here. My predecessor as minister brought into place a system of managing our forests for the first time. It got plenty of time at second reading. It went out to committee. There was lots of discussion. The bill was fine-tuned based on what we had to say because, do you know what? The bureaucrats and the government didn’t get it right the first time and it came back as an amended bill at third reading.
I was part of the committee under Howard Hampton when the sustainable forestry development act was put forward, where we actually had time to deal with it. It went over a couple of sessions so that there were proper hearings in between second reading and third reading. More importantly, those affected—the communities, the forest industry, First Nations, environmental groups and others—had an opportunity to really have a say. So this had better not be a truncated process, because you’re going to have me offside right at the beginning.
Is there a need for forest tenure reform? Absolutely. I don’t have a problem with the idea. Should we go in the way that the government is going? I think it’s worthy of discussion. But the devil will be in the details, and let me just raise a couple of them.
This would be an ideal place in this legislation to deal with one of the issues northern Ontarians have wanted to deal with for a long time, and that is dealing with the allowable cut. If we were to put into the legislation that we will protect 26 million cubic metres of wood a year, as has been recommended by chambers of commerce, by municipalities, by First Nations, by the OFIA and others, I think that would be a starting-off process, because at least then we wouldn’t see this as a diminution, making the wood basket smaller for those who need it.
If this is about how we can learn about how to do forest management practices better so we can become even better than we are now, then that would be a step in the right direction. So one of the things that I would be looking for is for the government to deal with the allowable cut issue, and I think this is a place that we’re able to do it.
The other issue is, as I read this—and I’ve not read the legislation, I must admit. I’ve only read the compendium, and it’s only a page and a bit long, so the details, as I say, are in the legislation—but this had better not put at risk any timber that is currently associated with a mill or a mill that may be shut down right now, looking to reopen. For many of those communities, that’s the only game in town. You’re not going to build a car plant there, you’re not going to launch the next moon shot from there, but you will cut trees and you will process them in those communities. So this had better not affect wood that is currently associated with current mills. I would put that up front at the beginning. I don’t know; I haven’t read the legislation.
The other issue is that I looked at the compendium, and it talks about basically making this a market-driven process when it comes to pricing our wood. My God. Some would argue, “Oh, well, that’s not going to be so serious, because who is left in the wood industry may not raise up the price.” But we know that eventually things will get better in the US of A, where they like to buy our wood and dimensional lumber products that we make out of Ontario. If we go to a competitive wood pricing system, you will have, when the market is good, mills which will be competing on price for the wood. That’ll be really good in the upswing when the economy is doing well, which it will in the forest industry eventually, but it’s going to kill our industry in the longer term. So I just warn the government that this had better not make this a market-driven price and drive us to an American solution. I suspect that what we are trying to do here is speak to the constant threat of the Americans bringing us before the free trade and bringing us before the various processes on the countervail duty.
The other issue is, I’m not sure how this deals with the unutilized timber that is so much wanted by smaller operators out there. I know that my colleague the former Minister of Natural Resources in the Conservative Party was a huge advocate, as I am, on this issue. I know France Gélinas has people in her riding—as I have in my riding, as you have in your riding, as minister—who are trying to get access to unutilized timber to do some innovative things when it comes to value-added in the wood industry.
I look forward to the debate. I look forward to reading the legislation, but I warn you now: second reading only, this spring. We are not going to go to third reading on this at the end.