Mayors from the member communities of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) met with representatives of communities in Northern Quebec, as well as the forestry industry and First Nations in Timmins on Tuesday afternoon.

The diverse group came together to discuss ways to counter the messaging of environmentalist groups about forest industry practices. Much of the discussion revolved around one group in particular: Greenpeace, which the Ontario mayors have already gone so far as to accuse of “eco-terrorism.”

“We decided as communities, industry stakeholders, and First Nations to talk about what the current issues are that affect us in Northern Ontario where we are under attack by environmental groups,” said FONOM president Al Spacek. “We feel strongly that it is a campaign of misinformation about how we conduct forestry in Northern Ontario. We know we adhere to the highest Canadian and provincial standards.

“We want to develop a strategy to get that message out, so we can defend our culture and the lifestyle we’ve been practising up here for generations very sustainably.”

Spacek said the plan initially was to meet with a Greenpeace representative, and although he said efforts were made more than a month ago to arrange it, that plan fell through. But the meeting Tuesday went ahead without the environmentalists.

To push back against the messaging brought out by Greenpeace in the media and through political lobbying, the participants at the meeting have decided to be more “structured” when delivering their own message to the public.

Timmins Mayor Steve Black said getting mayors from communities in Quebec, First Nations leaders and the forestry industry itself on board with those efforts is a significant development.

“I think it’s very positive to see these groups get together … and all at the same table is a very important first step. We really discussed the need to formalize some kind of process to be able to invest money as a group and get our message out pro-actively about how we are world leaders when it comes to sustainable forestry,” said Black.

Although Greenpeace was not at the meeting, the head of their chief adversary in the forestry industry was.

Richard Garneau, president and CEO of Resolute Forest Products, attended the meeting and said getting the perspective of local communities was important to the company.

“It is important for the mayors in Quebec and Ontario to share the issues that they have,” said Garneau. “I think they have realized that those issues are the exact same things; it’s about communities, it’s about people; it’s about jobs, and about defending their way of life in the north.”

Greenpeace has singled out Resolute for criticism while praising other forestry companies like Tembec, because the group alleges Resolute hasn’t maintained all its certifications from the Forest Stewardship Council, have a poor relationship with First Nations and is unwilling to adjust its logging plans to protect caribou habitat.

Resolute, in turn, has sued Greenpeace for defamation.

Garneau clarified that he came to the meeting because he was invited by Mayor Black, not to be part of any discussions with Greenpeace.

“The issues Resolute between Greenpeace, are not really about Resolute and Greenpeace; they’re about the boreal forest,” the CEO said. “I don’t think it will be Greenpeace and Resolute who will be the ones to find a solution to these issues. It will be the stakeholders such as the communities, First Nations, the industry, and ultimately, the government because it’s the governments that set the rules and regulations.”