An expired lease between a lumber
company and First Nation community may force the operation to close
Family-owned Lecours Lumber near
Hearst, which owns a sawmill and planing mill, sits on land held in
trust by the Crown for the Constance Lake First Nation. The company
began operations in 1943, two years before the band was created.
About 10 years later, the company was informed that it was on First
Nation land and a lease was negotiated.
In 2008, the current lease ended and
since then, negotiations have been ongoing between the two parties. A
failure to come to an agreement has resulted in the company receiving
a notice to vacate from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs andNorthern Development (AAND).
The letter was sent Sept. 18 and the
company has until Nov. 16 to vacate the property, including all its
Jules Fournier, mill manager, said a
meeting is to be held Oct. 22 with Constance Lake and he remains
hopeful an agreement can be reached.
“These are hard things to negotiate,
and we can't rush them,” he said. “We received a notice to vacate
from (AAND) so this is why Lecours doesn't have a choice, really.
Time is of the essence.”
He said one of the stumbling blocks
during negotiations is that the Constance Lake proposal is in the
“concept of governance, without owning.”
“ We can't accept this concept. One
needs to understand this is not a social program. The company is
family owned and privately held and we are here to make money,
“But we have hope and faith in
Monday's meeting and we'll see if we can break the impasses.”
The former lease stipulated that the
company should try to get 50 per cent of its workforce as native.
Fournier said at times, the percentage was over, or below.
Lecours also has a collective agreement
in place since it is unionized.
“On normal operations, on two to
three shifts, we are over the 50 per cent,” he said.
It currently has 110 employees, and 250
during normal operations.
“We have to remain optimistic since
we have been here close to 70 years. We want to keep workers working,
and don't want to affect communities like Hearst and area,”
“It's not by asking the company to
leave the premises that you resolve any issues.”
Attempts to reach a spokesperson from
Constance Lake First Nation and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs
and Northern Development were not successful.