Forestry seen as key issue in Ontario election – Special to The Chronicle-Journal (September 23, 2011)

The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

The three sitting political parties at Queen’s Park are weighing in on a key election issue in Northwestern Ontario, the forestry sector.

In July, the Ontario Forest Industries Association, the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce, the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association and the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities developed a series of questions for the Liberals, NDP and Tories to answer on forestry policies.

The responses were released on Thursday.

“We’re very pleased that all three parties took the time and effort to respond,” said Scott Jackson, manager of forest policy with the Ontario Forest Industries Association. “It’s very clear that forestry is a key issue going into this election, and rightfully so.”

The questions addressed timber production, the Endangered Species Act, the caribou conservation plan, the Ontario Forest Tenure Modernization Act, road construction and maintenance, and electricity rates.

“These questions have been around for many years,” said Ron Nelson, NOMA president and mayor of O’Connor Township.

“These are not something new; these are issues we have been dealing with on a continuous basis,” said Nelson.

Andy Scribilo, president of the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce, said the region’s forest industry has been a mainstay for more than 100 years and as a renewable resource will allow communities to continue to grow.

“This is their opportunity to come back with some answers or with more questions,” he said.
“It gives everybody in the Northwest a chance to see where our forestry industry is going and what our future governments are going to focus on in the Northwest.”

Thursday’s release included an analysis of the parties’ responses to the questions which showed that the Liberal’s provided the fewest responses, addressing only the forest road funding program.

However, the groups that developed the questions are not going to jump on any particular party bandwagon based on the responses, and encourage the public to read the full letters from each party to draw their own conclusions.

“The ‘not addressed’ should not be taken as a no,” Jackson said. “We see ‘not addressed’ as an opportunity for the parties to come forward and provide clarification and outreach to us. We see this as the beginning of the discussion.”

Jackson said the questions were developed on forward-looking commitments and involve complex issues. He said he recognizes that some parties were unable or unwilling to fully explain their approach in a four- or five-page response.
“We approach this from a policy perspective and not a political perspective,” he said. “There is no partisan politics involved here at all. We address each policy issue and response on its own merits.”
Jackson said that by having the three parities respond to the questions will also create accountability for the party that is elected on Oct. 6.

“When commitments are made, there is an expectation that those commitments will be lived up to,” he said. “This is a start of a discussion that will be carried on up to the election and certainly carry on after the election as well.”

“What we’ve done is we’ve now set the tools in motion, regardless of who forms the next government, to be able go back to the table with them and say these are the answers you gave, now we need to proceed and go into more depth,” added Nelson.

The Green Party was not included in the exercise. Jackson said they wanted to target the sitting parties.
Harold Wilson, president of the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, said there will be opportunities for the Greens to address the issues.

“Some of these questions that are being asked are the same ones that are being talked about with all leaders in candidate forums,” he said.

Jackson said that based on the fact that the parties did respond, it proves that the forest sector is on the radar of all three parities.

“At the end of the day, all three parties are going to have to justify and rationalize their responses and positions on our key forestry issues,” he said.

“It is something that we’re not going to stop focusing on,” Scribilo said. “Even after the election, we’re going to make it something talked about to make sure things are done.”