Keep people working

Premier must address electricity rates, red tape

With an ominous acceleration of recent forest industry mill closures and job losses across the province, the Premier of Ontario must address two key issues - sky high electricity rates and business killing red tape -- or face the growing spectre of communities decimated by unemployment and a continued out-migration of people, talent and prosperity.

"Urgent action must be taken because the forest industry job loss of 2,240 in just the City of Thunder Bay is the equivalent of 385,000 jobs in the City of Toronto" said Lynn Peterson, Mayor of Thunder Bay. "When you include all of the continuing losses in all of the mill towns across Ontario you can see that we are experiencing an unprecedented economic catastrophe. I can say with certainty that the Ontario government must act quickly by providing immediate investment and policy change."

Built on the theme of "Keep people working," the Ontario Forestry Coalition (OFC) today unveiled to the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) a clear and tightly focused campaign to work with the Government of Ontario to address two of the most significant factors affecting the forestry sector on which the more than 200 Ontario communities and 270,000 families depend on for their social and economic wellbeing.

"Our Coalition worked together extremely well over the past year in lowering some of the world's highest delivered wood costs - the cost of getting wood from the forest to the mill. First we educated and then we worked with Premier McGuinty's government to bring about the absolutely necessary changes and investment in the sector," explained NOMA President and Mayor of Greenstone, Michael Power.

"We believe we can work with the government to address the remaining critical core issues affecting the forestry sector's ability to compete," he added.

"As the Premier himself acknowledged in a February 22, 2006 speech to Forestry Coalition members, '"much more needs to be done,"' said Jamie Lim, President/CEO of the Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA).

"Ontario has the highest electricity rates in Canada and the second highest rates in North America. Once boasting the most competitive electricity rates, Ontario's costs have jumped by 60 percent over the past three years, she noted."

"Electricity costs, that are currently averaging a whopping $70 per megawatt hour, significantly impact on the energy intensive forestry sector's ability to compete with neighboring provinces let alone an aggressive global marketplace. We are proposing a realistic, flexible plan that will lower costs and keep mills open and people working," said Kenora Mayor David Canfield.

Based on the input of industry and energy experts and the government's own Minister's Council Report on Forest Sector Competitiveness, the Coalition plan strongly recommends an immediate $15 per megawatt hour reduction on electricity rates retroactive to January 1, 2006. The rebate is the first step in lowering the overall cost of electricity to $45 by September 2006.

"The plan," observes Mayor Peterson, "doesn't achieve parity with the lower cost regions of Canada, but it is reasonable, responsible to the taxpayers of Ontario, and will help restore provincial competitiveness and improve the operating environment for Ontario's forest industries."

In addition to addressing punishing electricity costs, the government must continue what it started in reducing government red tape that is strangling business.

'Giving credit where it is due, the Ministry of Natural Resources is taking significant steps to reduce complicated and costly regulations that do little in terms of protecting environment, jobs and enhancing safety, but we need to have all arms of government - all ministries - pulling in the same direction," said Kenora Mayor Dave Canfield whose community has been one of the hardest hit by recent mill closures.

The Forestry Coalition has signaled that it intends to work with all ministries, including the Ontario Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Environment, to reduce burdensome regulations and implement policy change that will help reverse declining provincial competitiveness that has led to a recent exodus of over 90,000 manufacturing jobs from the province.


Jamie Lim
OFIA President/CEO

Mayor Michael Power
NOMA President
Lynn Peterson
Mayor, Thunder Bay
Dave Canfield
Mayor, Kenora