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Minority government has interest groups focusing on grassroots support for forestry policy

Miner & News

October 19, 2011

By Jon Thompson

In the provincial minority, the fight for forestry policy is digging into the North's roots.

As far as the environmental advocacy organizations are concerned, a minority government is moving the debate into civil society. Thunder Bay-based boreal program manager for Ontario Nature, Julee Boan, intends to take the fight to both the corporate offices and the grassroots, saying both legislation and implementation are more difficult in a minority government.

"Things like the Endangered Species Act are going to need the support of people on the ground," she said. "It may not be the government that is stepping in to lead the way, it will be the people who are using the natural resources to lead the way."

The road to the boardroom is paved with the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, a document signed in May that ties environmental organizations to forestry companies in an effort to find common ground outside of the political process.

"Eventually, that will be presented to First Nations and governments. It's an example of stakeholders moving forward when government may not be able to do so and that's where the work can be done."

Greenpeace boreal forest campaigner Catherine Grant heard more from Northern Development, Mines and Forestry Minister Michael Gravelle that she liked during the election campaign than she ever has and holds a sense of optimism coming into Premier Dalton McGuinty's third term. Greenpeace, too, is headed to the grassroots to garner support among Northern municipalities, businesses and communities.

"We're going to be engaging in outreach with a bunch of Northern mayors, shop around our conservation solutions and meeting with First Nations communtiies to get leadership from them in areas they see as important to them," she explained. "If we're able to see Northern and First Nations support, it will be too good for the government to pass up."

Grant reiterated her position that ecology and economy are not mutually exclusive.

"We're an advanced civilization. We should be able to do conservation and economy hand-in-hand. Lots of other countries have done that and it's frustrating for me that people see it as an either/or thing."

The Ontario Forestry Industries Association expressed frustration over the past two terms of Liberal leadership, saying environmentalists had the ear of government and accused McGuinty's policies of impeding the industry as it collapsed in the North on his watch.

Over the election campaign, the Northern municipalities and chambers of commerce joined the association in seeking a commitment from all parties to grow the forestry industry and forest policy manager Scott Jackson was encouraged that all parties committed to the industry that still employs 200,000 people in Ontario as a priority.

"We have always worked with government and all political parites to advance our policy issues," he said. "It has always been about the policies and trying to raise awareness in terms of our policy needs rather than money. There are programs in place we'd like to see maintained but we need a focus on good public policy."

Jackson cited a report from Poyry consultants, which sees growth on the horizon for the industry.

"The markets are expected to rebound," he explained. "We're seeing demand go up and Ontario continues to be at the forefront of jurisdictions that can provide sustainable forest products ... We'll keep pushing to get what we need so we can take advantage of returning and expanding market conditions."

Gravelle, Minister of Natural Resources Linda Jeffrey and Kenora-Rainy River MPP Sarah Campbell did not return calls.

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