“Task Force” hopes to counter forestry crisis in Outaouais
The Christmas season is not very cheery for regional forestry workers as the political forces at many levels have deemed it necessary to elect a “Task Force” to tackle the forestry crisis now plaguing the Outaouais. This announcement in Thurso recently comes from Papineau MNA Mathieu Lacombe, responsible for the Outaouais and Pierre Dufour, Quebec Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks.
This follows massive layoffs of workers at Fortress Global mill in Thurso which has been given bail-off sums from the Province of 5 and 8 million in the last few months. As well, an additional 5.3 million is now earmarked to facilitate sawmills in the area to temporarily ship their wood products to the Domtar plant at Windsor, in the Eastern Townships, since the Fortress mill cannot absorb them.
Lauzon sawmill is also hard hit, closing down for an indeterminate time as of December 19, resulting in the layoff of 133 workers. Its other division, Lauzon planchers, has had to curtail its wood-cutting operations, resulting in the layoff of 165 workers.
Meanwhile, the Task Force, focussing on solutions to the forestry crisis in the Outaouais and the Laurentians, puts into play municipal and regional heads such as Thurso Mayor and Prefect for MRC Papineau, Benoit Lauzon and Chantal Lamarche, Prefect for MRC de la Vallée-de-la-Gatineau.
As Papineau MNA Mathieu Lacombe points out, the series of grants from the government have been a concerted financial strategy to assure a minimum of operations sustainability, while keeping the door open for a potential buyer of the Fortress mill.
When Fortress Global, a Vancouver-based company bought the mill in 2010, the Quebec government granted it a $102-million loan to convert the facility to dissolving paper products. But the cost of the operation ballooned to $300-million in May, the government saying it would give Fortress until 2022 to start paying back the loan.
Of the mill’s 323 workers, 273 were laid off in October in a move to temporarily shut down the operation, the company blaming trade disputes with the U.S. and China as well as tanking prices for its cellulose products.