Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Forestry assistance misses mark, industry group says

The federal and Quebec plan to set up a committee to study the province's forest industry has drawn a sharp rebuke from the Forest Products Association of Canada.

"Four weeks of bureaucrats talking to each other is not what we anticipated," Avrim Lazar, president and CEO of the association, said Monday. "The forest industry in Canada can't wait around for more discussion about what governments need to do."

He was reacting to the federal-Quebec announcement Monday that senior government officials will form a committee to report by May 15 on initiatives to help Quebec forest industry communities.

Lisa Riatt, federal minister of Natural Resources, said in a news release that Quebec will qualify for $211 million out of the $1 billion the federal government committed in its January budget to help communities hit by economic problems.

"The challenge is to now ensure these supports go to the people who need them most," she said.

The government also promised $170 million in the budget to improve the forest sector’s competitiveness.

"Implementing existing programs and measures contained in January's budget is important, but it isn't an adequate response, given the severity of the crisis and developments of recent weeks," Lazar said.

He said the industry needs:

An attack on billions in U.S. subsidies for the production of renewable fuel in the pulp industry.Changes in in provincial wood policies.More competitive rail systems.Modernized tax credits for R&D and capital investment.Improved access to credit.A national green energy policy that supports investments in clean power produced by Canadian mills.

The forest sector has been shrinking since 2003, with 207 mills closing and a loss of 38,000 jobs.

Last week, AbitibiBowater filed for bankruptcy protection. The forest company has deep roots in Canada; about half of its 14,000 employees work in Quebec.