KENORA – Leaders Ledger – Last week we were all surprised and saddened to hear of the indefinite idling of the Kraft Mill and Paper Machine Number 5 in Fort Frances. For those living in Fort Frances, the news confirmed rumours that had been circulating since early fall, while for others across the region was an unwelcome reminder of other shutdowns and closures that have affected communities across the north.
While it is terrible news, particularly given the timing, there is hope and Resolute Forest Products has made strategic investments in the operation to ensure it is viable. That is why I believe very strongly that we need to focus our energies on working together to ensure the length of this shutdown is minimized, and that we make strategic decisions not only to aid Fort Frances, but to help sustain and grow forestry operations across the Kenora-Rainy River riding and across the north.
While there are some factors that are difficult to control, such as declining markets and the high Canadian Dollar, there are many others where sound policy decisions can help ensure the industry’s long-term sustainability. While it is easy to point fingers and lay blame, playing partisan politics does nothing to fix the situation and we need everyone to work cooperatively and in the best interests of the region and the industry itself.
The fact is, the forest industry still sees Northern Ontario as an extremely viable market. Resolute, for instance, has made important investments in its Fort Frances operations to ensure it can restart operations, while at the same time preparing to reopen sawmill operations in Ignace. In Kenora, Weyerhaeuser recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of its operations, while Domtar continues to operate its pulp operations in Dryden. This is in addition to dozens of other small operations across our region.
While the industry may not be the same as it was ten years ago, many of these operations, Fort Frances included, continue to look to new markets and products that can help them sustain and grow in our region.
The key is ensuring governments sets the conditions necessary to allow the industry to flourish. This includes ensuring energy prices are competitive, if not better, than competing markets, making strategic investments in roads and other infrastructure that may allow the industry to operate more efficiently, and working to limit red tape and duplication that slow development and add unnecessary costs to the price of doing business.
One important change is to remove the unnecessary overlap between regulations, such as Forest Management Plans and the Endangered Species Act that are set to come into the force this June.
This week I wrote to Minister Michael Gravelle asking him to reintroduce proposed amendments to the Endangered Species Act that would eliminate this duplication. While we need to protect our environment and Species at Risk, duplication serves no productive purpose.
I firmly believe sustainable forest operations will continue to be an important part of our economy for years to come. In order to do this, we need to put partisanship aside and come to the table with an open mind.
MPP Kenora-Rainy River