Fort Frances Faces Economic Crisis

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Sarah Campbell rally

Business ReportQUEENS PARK – POLITICS – Sarah Campbell, NDP MPP for Kenora-Rainy River is calling on Premier Wynne to support the people of Fort Frances by ensuring their local kraft mill can open again by approving an Enhanced Sustainable Forestry License for the town.

“In a recent letter to the Town of Fort Frances, the Premier wrote that her government is ‘committed to the forest industry and to preserving and creating jobs in Northern Ontario’,” Campbell said. “What is the Premier ready to do to help the people of Fort Frances and ensure the mill can get up and running?”

During Question Period at Queens Park Campbell sought answers from Bill Mauro the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Campbell asked, “Fort Frances was devastated when their local mill idled in 2012. Now there is renewed hope, given that a company is looking to purchase the mill. Getting the mill up and running could mean 200 direct and 1,000 spinoff jobs, as well as a $100-million annual injection into the economy.

“But Expera, the company ready to buy the mill and create jobs, keeps running up against major challenges that the town of Fort Frances is confident this government can solve.

“In a recent letter to the town of Fort Frances, the Premier wrote that she recognizes “the benefits that such a deal could bring” and that her government is “committed to the forestry industry, and to preserving and creating jobs in northern Ontario.”

My question is, what is the Premier ready to do to help the town of Fort Frances and ensure that we can get this mill up and going?”

Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of Natural Resources.

Hon. Bill Mauro: I want to thank the member for the question. Like many in northwestern Ontario, I will say I was very excited when the negotiations began between the owner of the mill and the potential purchaser of the mill. I would say that I allowed myself to get a little bit more optimistic than I might generally in situations like this. We need to remember that the mill is a privately owned facility.

There are multiple components as to whether or not a deal could get done. At the end of the day, at least to this point—and we’re still hopeful that things can get back on track and restart—the two parties have decided that they are not going to move forward with the mill, or to the negotiation and the sale.

I would say, though, to the town of Fort Frances—and I did call Mayor Avis immediately upon finding out about this; I had a great conversation with him. We do understand that Mayor Avis and the town of Fort Frances will continue to work towards a deal and do anything they can, and we’re there to support them very much in that effort in any way that we can.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Sarah Campbell: Back to the Premier: The Crossroute Forest is one of the most productive forests in Ontario, but the forest is in the hands of a company that won’t guarantee the prospective buyer, Expera, the cost-competitive fibre it needs to run the mill.

The town of Fort Frances has asked for a seat at the table to ensure that its local forests can create jobs in Fort Frances as part of an enhanced sustainable forestry licence. But the minister has slammed the door. With the stroke of a pen, this government can ensure that Fort Frances has a role in managing its own forests so that there is enough fibre to keep people working.

Will the Premier listen to the town of Fort Frances and First Nation communities and instruct her Minister of Natural Resources to approve the enhanced sustainable forestry licence for the town of Fort Frances?

Hon. Bill Mauro: I think it’s important to note that the system of forest tenure that we’re operating under currently now in the province of Ontario was a system that was brought in by NDP in 1994. We’ve made a significant commitment to move away from that system with tenure modernization.

There are four priority ESFLs in the province of Ontario currently being worked on right now. But it’s important, Speaker, to say that even if there was tenure modernization in place, even if there was an ESFL in this particular case, it’s only one piece of the components necessary to get a deal done.

At the end of the day, the mill is still privately owned; it’s not in bankruptcy. So at the end of the day, even if the ESFL discussions had begun some time ago, that is in no way a guarantee that a deal could have been done here.

I will say, Speaker, we’re interested in working with the town in any way we can. We understand the impact of this mill to that community and all of northwestern Ontario. We’ll continue to do whatever we can to try to enhance the opportunities around—

Campbell said that the closure of the local Fort Frances mill devastated the town, but that there was new hope with Expera, a company that was looking to buy the mill and create jobs.

“Getting the mill up and running could mean 200 direct and 1000 spinoff jobs, as well as a $100 million annual injection into the economy,” Campbell said. “But Expera, keeps running up against major challenges that the Town of Fort Frances knows the provincial government can solve.”

Campbell explained that the Crossroute forest is one of the most productive forests in Ontario, but the forest is in the hands of company that won’t guarantee the prospective buyer, Expera, the cost competitive fibre it needs to run the mill.

In a media statement the NDP said, “Despite Expera expressing it is no longer pursuing the purchase of the mill because of provincial roadblocks, the Premier did not answer Campbell’s questions, instead passing them to the Minister of Natural Resources who in turn refused to take responsibility for failing to provide the Enhanced Sustainable Forestry License”.

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