Forestry is the second largest industry in Timmins-James Bay, but the industry still recovering from a decade of decreased demand for timber brought on the crash of the U.S. housing market during the mid 2000s.
Mills closed and very likely many will never be coming back.
Economic fortunes in the U.S. are improving, but it appears the once insatiable demand for raw materials in China could begin to dry up as that country’s economy begins to slow from the exponential growth it has enjoyed for many years.
With all this in mind, The Daily Press asked local candidates what policies, trade agreements or other initiatives they would have the federal government pursue to ensure the forest industry in this region continues to grow and create jobs here.
Green Party candidate Max Kennedy doesn’t believe that forestry in Timmins-James Bay is recovering at all, much less creating jobs for the people here.
He cited the closure of the Iroquois Falls paper mill this past December as evidence of that.
“Over the past few years we’ve lost a lot of forestry jobs,” said Kennedy. “So I would say that at least in this region, the industry is on the decline.”
To turn that around, Kennedy said that inter-provincial trade agreements like the one between Ontario and Quebec need to be adjusted and put on an even footing; something he believes is not the case right now.
“The very cheap, subsidized energy you find in Quebec — which the Ontario government has been working hard to remove the subsidies from — we need to address that and create a level playing field for the people in our area,” said the Green candidate.
Internationally, Kennedy believes Canada needs to renegotiate free trade deals that see raw logs being exported to be processed in other countries. Deals allowing raw resources to be shipped abroad when they could be processed in Canada is self-defeating, said Kennedy.
“Shipping out logs that haven’t been debarked is not a smart thing to be doing. We need to have the processing happening here and the finished goods being shipped out,” he said.
Conservative candidate John Curley said the key to ensuring the growth of the forest industry is to create a business-friendly environment by reducing corporate taxes, not increasing Canadian Pension Plan contributions made by employers or imposing a new carbon tax.
Curley argued that Conservative government has already put in place policies that promote forestry industry growth.
“In 2010, we introduced a $1 billion Pulp and Paper Transformation Program to support Canada’s forestry industries and improve their environmental performance, and as part of Economic Action Plan 2015, we provided another $86 million over two years through the Forest Innovation Program and the Expanding Market Opportunities Programs,” said Curley in an email.
“As your MP, I would continue to dig through a host of available programs and pursue every avenue I can find, to help our forestry industry continue its recovery. Higher taxes don’t help our companies create jobs or put money in our pockets.”
Liberal candidate Todd Lever pointed out that the softwood lumber agreement between Canada and the U.S. Is about to expire in just a few weeks because the two countries haven’t agreed to renew it.
However, both countries are barred from taking unilateral action for one year afterward, meaning there is still time to negotiate a new agreement.
Nonetheless, with about three-quarters of all Canadian timber being sold in U.S. markets, Lever said not having a deal in place will be harmful to the forest industry locally and nationally.
“One of the forestry industry’s biggest concerns when forecasting is certainty. But because of this, we have a significant degree of uncertainty,” said Lever. “What we need to do, whether it be a new softwood lumber agreement or in the context of the Transpacific Partnership, is to get some certainty for the forestry industry.”
Proposed investments in green technology will also benefit for the forestry industry, said Lever. Biomass, for instance, would create a market for waste products such as sawdust that would be more money for the industry and cleaner energy for everyone else.
Lever also ripped into the NDP, which he said are interested blaming those in power without understanding the economic issues involved, and for having no position on trade agreements such as the Transpacific Partnership because, he argued, they are too beholden to union interests.
NDP incumbent Charlie Angus laid the blame for the loss of 30,000 Ontario forestry jobs, which he says was caused by the Conservatives rolling over on the softwood lumber issue despite winning rulings at the World Trade Organization.
“The Conservatives refused to stand up for the rights of our mills and signed an agreement that crippled access to markets. And we have been suffering ever since,” he said. “They’ve stood up for Keystone XL but not forestry.”
The NDP is promising to spend $105 million on retooling existing mills to make them competitive in the modern forestry industry.
“There are value-added mills in our region that are sitting idle because they need capital investment. So we want to have that fund for research and development and establishing new markets with these capital investments that are needed,” said Angus. “I’ve been meeting with mill owners who are frustrated because they are ready to go, but they just need machine upgrades … we need to get these mills up and running because the market is recovering.”