THUNDER BAY, ON ---- May 5, 2011 ---- The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce (NOACC), the Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA) and the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA) are expressing continued concern with the final content of Bill 151, the Ontario Forest Tenure Modernization Act (OFTMA). On Wednesday, May 4, 2011 the Standing Committee on General Government met to vote on final amendments to the controversial Bill, which due to a time allocation motion filed by the McGuinty Government, did not include an opportunity for discussion or debate.
Final Version of Bill 151 (Tenure Reform) Falls Short of McGuinty Government’s Commitment to Address Serious Concerns
• Government says ‘no’ to including economic development as a primary objective
• Impacted parties reach out to Government, requesting constructive engagement
The Chambers of Commerce across Northwestern Ontario, NOMA and the OFIA, among others, have expressed disappointment that the Bill was fast tracked through the legislative process without sufficient amendment to resolve the problematic public policy implications. Extensive testimony was given by impacted stakeholders at public hearings held in Toronto in early April.
“Bill 151 remains a flawed Bill that will create uncertainty in the forest sector and will jeopardize investment and employment opportunities.” says Jamie Lim, President and CEO of the OFIA. “Bill 151 continues to provide the Government with the arbitrary right to unilaterally cancel wood supply agreements and commitments, and prevents anyone affected by such cancellations from seeking legal recourse, damages or compensation.” Despite recent letters of assurance from Minister Gravelle to various northern stakeholders, the legislation has not been changed sufficiently to address stakeholders’ primary concerns. “Unfortunately, letters from the Minister committing to address our concerns don’t hold water in the courts when the language of the Bill isn’t fixed,” adds Lim.
“The current Bill is simply not in the best interest of Northern and rural municipalities. Government representatives on the Standing Committee, including Mike Brown, the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, voted against the inclusion of ‘economic development opportunities for northern and rural communities’ and the need to ‘positively impact the Ontario forest product sector’ as primary objectives of the Bill,” says Ron Nelson, President of NOMA.
“We still do not understand the need for such speedy passage of this flawed legislation. When Minister Gravelle announced his measured approach to tenure reform in our office in January, there was absolutely no mention about canceling existing wood supply agreements without recourse or compensation,” states Harold Wilson, Chief Operating Officer of NOACC. “If basic issues of definition and clarity are dismissed out of hand, without discussion or debate, we have concerns about the level of analysis that has been done on the ramifications and serious consequences of Bill 151 on our Northwestern Ontario economy. Businesses in Thunder Bay and the region have expressed concern to us about the impact on their businesses.”
Chambers of Commerce, OFIA, and NOMA also note that the Government has been trying to draw attention away from the controversial Bill by announcing wood supply allocations through the Wood Supply Competitive Process (WSCP). The WSCP, which is a separate process from tenure reform and which is supported by the organizations, will be undermined by Bill 151. Companies receiving allocations under the WSCP need to realize that they no longer have security of supply.
Many of the outstanding concerns consistently expressed by the Chambers of Commerce, OFIA and NOMA were reflected in an April 13, 2011 submission to the Standing Committee from the Ontario Bar Association (OBA), an organization which represents 18,000 lawyers, judges, law professors and students in Ontario. The OBA submission provided a detailed review of the Bill's provisions and expressed numerous concerns, including the statement that provisions of Bill 151 “appear unfair to Ontarians and potential investors and we suggest they be redrafted to reflect a more balanced approach to the forestry partnership."