Forestry move under MNR welcomed – by Ryan Lux (Timmins Daily Press – October 24, 2011)

The Daily Press, the city of Timmins newspaper.

Renewed sense of optimism expressed

While NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson was underwhelmed by Dalton McGuinty’s “stay the course cabinet,” he joined Ontario’s forest industry representatives in expressing tentative optimism for the forestry sector based on the minor cabinet shuffle.

In general, Bisson described McGuinty’s new cabinet as a “missed opportunity” to demonstrate a change in direction. However, he said the Premier’s choice of Thunder Bay’s Michael Gravelle as Minister of Natural Resources should give Northerners a glimmer of hope.

Fuelling Bisson’s hope for a rationalized approach to forestry at Queen’s Park is McGuinty’s decision to return the forestry portfolio under the responsibility of the ministry of natural resources.

“The government spent a lot of money to take forestry out of natural resources which we didn’t feel was a good move,” said Bisson. “Moving it to northern development and mines kind of orphaned forestry.”

The separation also forced companies to deal with an extra bureaucratic layer because they were still required to work with the ministry of natural resources for environmental reviews and regulation, he said.

“Now they put it back together and that’s a good thing and finally we have a minister responsible for the industry who actually comes from Northern Ontario,” said Bisson. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

Despite the mining sector’s revival in Northern Ontario, Bisson said the forest industry remains the lifeblood for most communities.

“It’s still the mainstay of the Northern economy and quite frankly the government dropped the ball when it came to looking after the interests of that sector. They have a lot of work to do.”

Two of the most urgent issues the newly re-elected government needs to deal with, according to Bisson, is how it allocates timber allowances and cultivating a sense of stability to encourage investment.

“We need to effectively deal with timber allocations. If a tenure isn’t being used because a mill closed down then we have to do better at finding someone who can use that wood to benefit communities.”

He argued the government’s new forest management plans which drastically reduce allowable cuts, will likely scare off new investors and make companies already operating in the province nervous about sinking new money into the industry.

“They’ve opened up the question of how secure these licences are and companies need security in order to attract financing,” Bisson added.

Ontario Forest Industries Association president Jamie Lim echoed Bisson’s support of the government’s decision to return forestry under the umbrella of the ministry of natural resources led by Gravelle.

“When we had the ministry split it create more problematic for industry because they had to deal with more red tape and bureaucracy,” said Lim.

The fact she’ll be dealing with Gravelle as opposed to someone green behind the ears is the biggest source of optimism for Lim.

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