OTTAWA – Leaders Ledger – The idling of the Resolute Forest Products of the kraft mill and one of the paper machines at the company’s Fort Frances operations is a serious blow to the affected workers and their families as well as the economy of the town. My office is ready to assist those who are directly affected by layoffs and idling, but we are also seeking answers and accountability from the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa.
The idling announcement this past week from Resolute came as a surprise to many. If you are one of the 239 workers and families who have been directly affected, then I strongly urge you to speak with representatives of your union local if you are a member, but you should also know that my staff and I are ready and able to assist you in accessing any and all federal programs that can be of assistance during this difficult time.
The morning of the announcement by Resolute I was contacted by a company official for a briefing. I was reassured by the fact that the company has decided to idle the machines rather than mothballing or shuttering operations; a distinction they made very early on in our conversation. The official also assured me that they are looking at alternative products that could be produced at the mill, and that they are concerned for the well-being workers who have been affected. I stressed that older workers, especially those nearing retirement, may need some additional assistance or consideration as it pertains to their future at the mill and with the security of their pensions in particular. The company official agreed and promised to keep me up to date on any new developments.
Once the initial shock of the announcement wore off it was time to get some answers from the Harper Conservatives. If Canada is performing so well economically, then why are there so many layoffs and losses in the forestry sector – from Fort Frances to Shawinigan Quebec to Mersey in Nova Scotia? Why are the Conservatives cutting back on Employment Insurance benefits at a time when thousands upon thousands of forestry industry workers are in need of this program? Why have they abandoned our resource communities in Northern Ontario?
The question I asked in the House was as follows, “Mr. Speaker, yesterday Resolute Forest Products announced 239 layoffs at the Fort Frances mill, which accounts for 37% of the economy in Fort Frances. While the government spends millions on TV ads bragging about Canada’s resource wealth and building gazebos and fake lakes, this is cold comfort to the workers and their families hit by these layoffs. In fact, since the Conservatives took office more than 30,000 forestry jobs have been lost in northern Ontario alone. Why has the government abandoned resource communities and hard-working families in Northern Ontario?”
The answer from Conservative Natural Resource Minister Denis Lebel was less than reassuring, “Mr. Speaker, as we all know, the forestry industry is still going through a difficult period. This is the fault of the market. Obviously, our government will never manage private companies. We sympathize with the workers in this region who unfortunately received bad news yesterday. It is obviously very difficult for the families, and we understand that. The problems with the forestry industry are the result of market and product issues. We all use the Internet and use less paper than before. That is a global trend.”
So the Minister solely blamed the “market,” and claims his government will never manage private companies. So, that’s that right? Not so fast. In their media release announcing the idling Resolute said it was due to, “…the decrease in consumption as well as the high value of the Canadian dollar.” That last point is something that cannot be ignored and it is something that Tom Mulcair has been talking about since last year. It is clear that the Harper Government is in denial about the warping effect that the high dollar has had on our economy, but especially the forestry sector.
I’ll take a look at that high dollar issue in the coming weeks, but this week I wanted to reassure the 239 affected workers and their families and the local businesses and suppliers who are also likely to suffer from this idling. My staff and I are here and ready to assist you in any way that we can, and we will continue to seek answers and action from the Harper Conservatives in the days and weeks ahead.
John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River