It was just on Tuesday that I wrote about the struggles that so many small rural and northern towns are facing in this day and age. In that piece, I focused on the current situation in Fort Frances, Ontario, the allegations around their dealings with the forestry company Resolute and untenable situation that’s come of it. It’s a story that deserves a lot more attention in the rest of the country and a situation that needs some serious correction by the Ontario government.

But since I wrote that piece, some new details have come to the surface that jumped to my attention and added a whole new layer to this already disturbing story. Yesterday the Fort Frances Times printed a Letter to the Editor from a Mr. David Kircher of Fort Frances on this very topic. He raises a serious question, with a new detail that really jumped out:

Okay wait… According to Mr. Kircher the person who is the author of the Government of Ontario’s 2020-2030 Draft Forest Management Plan for the Crossroute-Sapawe Forest is an employee of Resolute? Seriously? I mean it’s totally normal for companies who work in an area to be a part of consultations on plans like these, even taking part in working groups on them, so the idea that a company should have a say in such a plan isn’t out of the ordinary. No, that’s actually quite proper in my eyes. But the author of the plan itself? Something about that didn’t feel right to me, so I did a bit of digging online and that brought me to this page with this piece of info:

Wow, it looks like that’s exactly the case. Not only does that official Government of Ontario website indicate that an employee of Resolute is the “Plan Author” for this plan, they actually refer people to that person, calling them “an alternate to the government contact for this notice”. So instead of contacting the government to give your feedback on the plan, the government actually pointed people to this Resolute employee to give feedback. Folks, that’s a problem for me, especially when you look at the timelines here. As Mr. Kircher points out in his letter:

  • On July 31, 2019, the Westend Weekly published the MNRF’s invitation for the public to review and comment on the 2020-2030 Draft Forest Management Plan for the Crossroute-Sapawe Forest.
  • On July 9, 2019 the restrictive covenants were registered on title of the Fort Frances mill properties and title of said property transferred to the numbered company shortly thereafter.

So from the timeline here you can see that within weeks of Resolute selling the former Fort Frances mill property, including the restrictive covenants that would try to ensure that Resolute would never face any competition from that site, the Government of Ontario puts out notice of consultations on the forest management plan for the forest attached to that mill, a plan authored by the company that just ensured they would never face any competition from that site. Sorry, but that just doesn’t feel right to me at all and raises more questions.

I’m going to repeat something I said on Tuesday, because it’s equally important now: “When a car plant closes in Oshawa, GM doesn’t get a veto on who can set up shop there who might compete with them. When oil refineries closed in Montreal, the oil companies didn’t get a veto on who could move in an refine more oil. And in this case, Resolute made a choice to shut down that mill in Fort Frances, and they shouldn’t get to hold that community hostage and stop it from moving on in the best way for that community. There are a lot of good companies out there who don’t behave the ways that are being alleged here, and obviously there is a good business case to re-open that mill, as two different companies wanted it to do just that.”

Add to that statement from Tuesday now that not only is Resolute stopping the community from moving on in a way that’s best for them, they are writing the forest management plan for that very resource that would allow the community to move on and do better. Sorry, that’s just another layer of crap added to this story and gives the current Ontario Government a heck of a lot more to answer for. As Mr. Kircher pointed out in his letter Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Mr. John Yakabuski said that “he heard the call from Northern communities and the need for good long-term forest industry jobs.” This move doesn’t look like they have heard anything from Northern communities and doesn’t seem to put the needs for good long-term forestry jobs in that region first and foremost.

So I too wonder the same thing that Mr. Kircher asks at the end of his letter: Why then is the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry allowing a company that sure seems to be intent on reducing production capacity in the pulp and paper sector in Ontario to control a significant amount of forest lands in this province? Further to that, why is this government allowing a company that decided to shut down operations and move away to allegedly prevent other companies from taking their place and keep the forest sector going in that region?  These are good questions that need to be answered because while I believe that companies and users of the resource deserve to have input in the process that makes these plans, it feels very much like the right balance has been lost here to the detriment of the public good. Will they decide to step up and act? I guess time will tell.