THUNDER BAY – In Queen’s Park this week, standing to defend the Bill 151, the forestry tenure legislation, Bill Mauro explained several of the real issues in forestry very clearly. Sometimes it has seemed that politicians figure that all will be well in the forestry and that the historic cycle will soon bring back all the jobs at all the mills.
Mauro stated, “But I am sure, whether it’s a Conservative, an NDP or a Liberal speaking, that most people would likely agree that what has occurred in this industry is probably fair to be characterized as having been a very fundamental change.
“The forest industry in northern Ontario was not unused to seeing cyclical changes in the industry from decade to decade. That was normal. It’s not like it happened every couple of years, but it wasn’t unusual every 10 years or so to see changes in the fortunes of the forest industry. The people somewhat got used to that. Some mills would prosper and others wouldn’t do so well, but it was almost to be expected. I think that was part of the problem: that we’d always come out of these cycles and that things would be as they were before and that they would continue on in the way they had in the past”.
The Thunder Bay Atikokan MPP continued to state, “For seven years, I’ve listened primarily, I will say, to the New Democratic Party blame the Liberal government. For every sawmill closure and every pulp and paper mill closure in northern Ontario, it was the fault of the Liberal government. That’s what the NDP have said for seven years. I’ve said to some of the other northern members that we didn’t do a good enough job of speaking out against the ridiculousness of that argument. We let them repeat the same thing over and over again, and I think there were a significant number of people in northern Ontario who bought in and believed it. They tied it primarily to the cost of power. They would suggest to everybody who had a job in a sawmill or a pulp and paper mill that closed—sometimes permanently—that the reason that happened was because the Liberal government in the province of Ontario wasn’t doing a good enough job when it came to controlling power rates”.
Mauro’s point is that if it were power rates, then the losses in newsprint tonnage would have been picked up in Manitoba, or in Quebec where power rates are lower than Ontario. That however is not the case.
“I would love to hear an NDPer stand up and tell me why that happened, because you know what the point is? All of those closures that have occurred now that the NDP want to tell you are because of energy pricing—show me, if that’s the case, where the capacity of those closures has been transferred to another jurisdiction. If it’s only about energy prices, show me where the capacity of those sawmills and those pulp and paper mills got transferred to a lower-cost energy jurisdiction. Prove your argument instead of just standing up and being demagogues on a regular basis. Because you know what? It didn’t happen,” stated Mauro.
The forest industry is undergoing fundamental change that has shaken it to the core.
Newsprint? The very fact that you, and another 1.3 million people have been getting your news online on NetNewsledger.com is an indication of that systemic change impacting the industry. Newspapers, especially in the United States have seen their profits fall, partly due to the recession, but more due to changes in how people are accessing their news and information.
The magazine industry is undergoing equal change.
In terms of sawmills, the housing market in the United States has struggled. Add in changes in technology, and in construction techniques and the forestry is impacted yet again.
“There’s no market for the products that sawmills produce. There are still some sawmills operating, and I think, in my personal opinion, when we come out of it, there are always going to be sawmills; there are always going to be pulp and paper mills. There are still some sawmills operating but they are going to be bigger. From this point forward, they’re going to have to be bigger in order to compete. That’s my belief,” stated Mauro.
The Liberal MPP has already been taken to task on this comment by Christina Blizzard writing for the Toronto Sun. The columnist takes the first sentence of the paragraph and writes, “Good thing. Because it sounded like he was sounding the death knell for an entire region — that it would be better for northerners to head to the oilsands. Last one out turns off the lights, I guess”.
One of the best moves by governments in this time of change has been in moving to allow workers to re-train for new jobs. The Second Career program has allowed many people to shift from their mill jobs to new careers. In coming out stating facts, Mauro is really sharing what many people have known for a long time.
Politically, it is likely that the Thunder Bay Atikokan MPP will come under fire for his statements.
It is always easier to place blame.
What is happening in Northwestern Ontario is a shift in the forestry sector that has been brought in by changes in technology and in consumer choices.
The market for newsprint isn’t likely to dry up and vanish, just as the market for paper isn’t likely to disappear either. However it is changing at a fundamental level.
If you look at Thunder Bay, it was not all that long ago there were seven paper mills here. Now there is one. The local sawmills have closed. The entire community is in transition. A generation ago, the molecular medicine research, and DNA research in our city didn’t exist.
The transition is being, to a degree, led by innovation and new ideas. At Lakehead University where President Stevenson is leading a charge of change; Across the manufacturing sector where companies have teamed up to reach out to the west; In the youth where the Young Professionals have moved to SHIFT.
Change is happening across Thunder Bay. That change is desparately needed.
One doesn’t have to agree with Mauro, on everything. Personally, I think this October, the biggest challenger that the MPP will face will be his boss, Dalton McGuinty. However in coming out swinging like he has, Mauro is demonstrating the same kind of independent thinking that he did in working to keep jobs in Atikokan where the coal-fired generating station was slated to be closed.
Our region is one where what is needed is the kind of vision that will fuel the passion that so many of us all share. It also needs the ability of our leaders to share facts and reality with us. This week’s award for doing so, if there were one would have to go to Bill Mauro.