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Updated November 26, 2013
LAST WEEK's article "Timberland Management : Government " can be found HERE
In the same week that stakeholders and forest industry professionals are meeting with government officials in Quebec, two manufacturers in that province had unusual labour disruptions. First Resolute Forest Products, based in Montreal, QC, felt it necessary to temporarily shut down operations at its Thunder Bay-area sawmill, calling it a "safety break, and sending workers home without pay, said CBC Tuesday.
Resolute’s Director of Communications said it's not uncommon in mills where accidents are happening on the job.
“At the Thunder Bay operation this year, there have been three ... incidents, two that happened in the last month,” Xavier Van Chau said.
According to Unifor, the union representing those workers, an employee had his nose broken by a falling wrench.
Marvin Pupeza, Unifor spokesperson, called the decision to send employees home without pay Tuesday morning, "bizarre."
The company is evaluating remuneration options for the nearly 200 workers affected.
Resolute Wednesday announced plans to reopen that sawmill on Sunday night.
Elsewhere, about 100 angry trades workers blocked the gates of a mill in Miramichi, NB, Monday, saying a tender awarded to a Quebec-based company is taking jobs away from local workers, according to CTV Atlantic.
Mill owner Arbec Forest Products is shutting down for a two-week maintenance period and the company has hired a company from Quebec to do that work.
Timber and Manufacturing
A local group of welders, machinists and pipe fitters say they want the province to intervene.
“We’re here to try to put an end to it before it escalates, to let them know we’re a community here with local unemployed workers who are qualified to do the job,” says Calvin Donovan.
Last year, New Brunswick Premier David Alward gave Arbec Forest Products more than $15 million in provincial funding to reopen the mill. At the time, he promised the reopening would provide work for local people.
The demonstration ended late in the afternoon, after Arbec obtained a court injunction ordering the protesters to leave.
The mill was shut down for almost six years. It reopened last November with the help of the provincial and federal governments.
Also this week, the Quebec Forest Industry Council (QFIC) and the senior executives of six major forest companies urged the provincial government to make a priority of the issues and challenges of competitiveness facing the industry in Quebec, said the agency in a press release Wednesday.
The QFIC’s suggested steps toward “a new partnership to support the development of a green economy” would include the creation of a Strategic Forum on the competitiveness and transformation of the forest industry as well as the establishment of programs to support the transformation of the industry by using Quebec's energy surpluses.
Key government officials are expected to be present later this week at Rendez-vous de la forêt québécoise, a forest industry gathering in St. Felicien, QC, to lay the foundations of a new partnership to support the development of a green economy. Steps in that direction would include the creation of a Strategic Forum on the competitiveness and transformation of the forest industry as well as the establishment of programs to support the transformation of the industry by using Quebec's energy surpluses.
It is difficult for the forest-products industry to transition toward innovative and value-added products just as falling demand and rising production costs are wreaking havoc in its traditional markets. There’s a downward spiral of layoffs in Quebec, long a stronghold of newspaper pulp, where the province’s biggest newspaper chain is almost begging readers to trash their print subscriptions and switch to its free iPad edition to shed printing and distribution costs. The industry once employed more than 100,000 Quebeckers, but that’s dropped to 65,000, according to the Quebec Forest Industry Council (QFIC). Lumber sawmills are one of the few bright spots in the sector as hammers resonate once more on American construction sites.
Forest industry players are asking the Quebec government for more subsidies for plant conversions – all the while blasting the province’s environmental and sustainable development policies. The wood-allocation reforms spearheaded by the previous Liberal government have led to a 25 per cent increase in the price of fibre since 2011, forestry executives contend, and fibre accounts for roughly half of the industry’s production costs.
The industry has found a new way to approach the government for aid, eyeing reduced electricity rates. Ever since Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau said he would use Quebec’s electricity surpluses to attract new investors, companies have been lining up to demand lower rates to stay in the province. Talk about backfire. First came Alcoa, which is threatening to close its three aluminum smelters come 2015. Now it’s the forest industry’s turn.
“Before attracting new companies, why can’t we use those surpluses to support the companies that are already here so that they can transform themselves?” suggested QFIC president André Tremblay to the Globe and Mail Tuesday.
While the industry is courting the government once more, it is also threatening to invest elsewhere. Case in point: Tembec, which has to decide how it it going to allocate $80-million in investments between its Ontario and Quebec sawmills.
“It is an unfortunate truth that if you are faced as an investor with the decision on where to put your money first, it will not be in Quebec – not with this business environment, not with this fibre supply, not with the rapid rise in the cost of wood,” says Jim Lopez, President and CEO of Tembec to the Globe and Mail.
Just in time for this week’s release of your Madison’s Lumber Reporter, Premier Pauline Marois Friday morning announced a series of measures that would inject $430 million into Quebec’s forest industry.
The total includes $100 million in new money and will attempt to stem the bleeding in a sector that has seen 30,000 jobs lost since 2008, a total that represents one- third of the entire workforce.
Marois, in a speech before 200 in Saint–Félicien, Lac-Saint-Jean, QC, promised a “fresh start,” for the industry but also attempted to keep expectations down.
Another $50 million, to be spent between now and 2020, will go to create a program of residual forest biomass energy production in the aim of reducing fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, $27 million will go towards a trio of sustainable development initiatives that they hope could yield triple that amount in profits. A further $67 million will be spent over three years for various forestry management, clearing and reforestation projects.
And $10 million will go to stimulating the development of private forests through a system of property tax reimbursements that could benefit 130,000 small producers.