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Mill closures grip communities (7/03)

Several communities throughout Northern Ontario have been receiving bad news recently. The news is coming from lumber mills and pulp and paper mills.

Several communities throughout Northern Ontario have been receiving bad news recently.

The news is coming from lumber mills and pulp and paper mills. News of temporary and indefinite closures due to market conditions and low price of wood products, shortages of fibre supply and the softwood lumber issue have become commonplace.

“It’s very scary stuff,” says Thunder Bay Mayor Ken Boshcoff.

Over the past few weeks and months, several forestry companies have announced a number of shutdowns in northern communities. They include an announcement by Bowater of an extended shutdown for its Nuo. 3 paper mill in Thunder Bay.

“Fortunately, we’ve diversified our economy but any job loss has got to be taken seriously for any period of time,” says Boshcoff.

He says that local workers will be receiving employment insurance payments and there is a push at the federal level to waive the usual two-week waiting period for benefits.

As for an ultimate solution to the problem, there is not a thing that any community can do right now, says Boshcoff.

“There’s lots of blame going around at all levels of government, but its something that is really out of most of our control,” he says. “There are a number of issues, including the strength of the Canadian dollar’s, market conditions and the most ‘in-your-face’ issue is the softwood lumber duties. They are hitting hard across the North.”

“It’s all come upon us very fast and I think it will require a region-wide solution; not just each one doing something on their own,” says Boshcoff.

Chapleau is another community hit hard by cutbacks in the industry. Mayor Earle Freeborn says Weyerhaeuser recently announced a six-week shutdown affecting 150 employers. Domtar is also facing the same challenges that affects every other operation.

“Morale around town is very low,” says Freeborn. “Normally you see quite a few ‘for sale’ signs as people move up from one house into a bigger house leaving spaces for new home buyers. Now, there are no sales going on. The business people are complaining that there has been a drop in business because no one is buying.

He says provincial and federal governments are right to be careful in what kind of assistance to offer companies.

“If they aren’t careful, something like that could make the situation worse by giving the U.S. something else to say is subsidy,” he says. “I’ve always believed that we need a settlement that is long term to bring stability to the market. The fact of it is, our two countries are trading partners. A large portion of the lumber that goes into building houses in America comes from Canada.

Timmins Mayor Jamie Lim, also a co-chair of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities taskforce on softwood lumber, is encouraged by recent appeals to the U.S. administration not to appeal decisions made by the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement panel.

“These tariffs were the result of the lumber coalition in the United States but what these other Americans, who represent 2.5 million members, are saying is that their livelihoods depend on Canadian softwood lumber,” she says. “That kind of support coming from within the United States is huge.”

She says that, when the taskforce was put together two years ago, its members did not know what to expect.

“We saw communities dying. We saw communities closing and said: ‘We can’t, as mayors and councillors of resource-based communities, sit back and do nothing.’ We formed this group because we needed a community-to-community dialogue with our colleagues in the United States.”