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Prescription issued without proper consultation


Just imagine if your family doctor called you on Monday morning to tell you to take Prozac or some other mind alternating drug to help you get through the day. You would have to be concerned especially if you were not in consultation with the doctor in the first place. How did he know you were sick? He didn't even examine or consult with you to find out what pains you might be having. Better still maybe, it's not Prozac you need. The federal government has now become the official family doctor for Canada's pulp and paper business across the country by announcing a Community Development Trust that will see one billion dollars set aside for resource based communities that are in trouble. While the feds think it's a good idea the problem is the sick patient, the forest products industry and the thousands of workers and communities in question, have yet to be consulted. The federal doctor overseeing the problems in the forest products industry has just given a prescription without consulting the patient.

My perspective - Just imagine if your family doctor called you on Monday morning to tell you to take Prozac or some other mind alternating drug to help you get through the day. You would have to be concerned especially if you were not in consultation with the doctor in the first place. How did he know you were sick? He didn't even examine or consult with you to find out what pains you might be having. Better still maybe, it's not Prozac you need.

The federal government has now become the official family doctor for Canada's pulp and paper business across the country by announcing a Community Development Trust that will see one billion dollars set aside for resource based communities that are in trouble. While the feds think it's a good idea the problem is the sick patient, the forest products industry and the thousands of workers and communities in question, have yet to be consulted. The federal doctor overseeing the problems in the forest products industry has just given a prescription without consulting the patient.

But Loyola Hearn, Newfoundland's federal cabinet representative is defending the federal government's involvement to date and says the prescription given the forest industry is just fine. Government, he says has recognized the very serious situation that exists in communities clear across the country.

" While some people would want to rush things and create band-aid solutions that offer temporary fixes here and there, we have taken the necessary time to develop a national program that allows provinces and territories to apply flexibility and identify programs," he says. The federal minister was referring of course to the national Community Development Trust Fund designed to help provinces and communities suffering from economic hardship in global financial commodities markets. The trust will be funded out of the 2007-08 budget surplus and will have a three year life span once parliament approves the legislation. A base amount of $10 million will be allocated to each province.

How can the federal government develop a national program to help the forest products industry when it hasn't even bothered to consult the industry, specific pulp and paper companies or the national union which represents thousands of forest workers in the country? David Coles, National President with the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union says having decisions made on the future of the forest industry without having input from the industry or its workers is shameful. The national union president is calling for a forestry summit to find out what can be done to save forestry jobs.

Closer to home Abitibi Bowater says its now into the second phase of a comprehensive review of its business and that final decisions on what the company will eventually look like are close to being made. Remember the community was overjoyed last year when the Grand Falls-Windsor mill escaped the axe after two reviews were completed.

Abitibi says over the next three to four months the company will undertake yet another comprehensive review of all of its mills with the view to further reducing costs as well as improving its manufacturing platform to better position the company in the global marketplace. The company says given specific pressures in Eastern Canada relative to wood availability, energy and labour a second phase of closures could take place by mid 2008. Final decisions regarding actions to be taken and locations impacted will be confirmed in the second quarter of this year.

AbitibiBowater maintains these difficult steps are part of a comprehensive roadmap designed to better position the company for the future an objective it suggests is clearly in the long term interests of stakeholders, employees, shareholders, suppliers, customers and communities. AbitibiBowater says they will now be reaching out to all stakeholders in an effort to address challenges which are exacerbated by the rapid rise of the Canadian dollar. They better hurry as the forestry doctor in Ottawa has already decided what needs to be done. But just how can the various stakeholders help and what more can and should be expected?

It's my perspective the prescription offered by the federal government in the form of a Community Development Trust will actually encourage companies like AbitibiBowater to shut even more mills. The federal politicians can then waltz in an offer up its Community Development Trust money to laid off workers. This strategy probably works for the industry as they are working at great lengths to reduce capacity. The federal government gets the company off the hook by helping to bail out the communities affected. Instead federal money should be used to make the industry globally competitive. Help modernize old mills like the one in Grand Falls-Windsor. Until the union and the government start playing a meaningful role in shaping this industry's future paper mill's such as the one in Grand Falls-Windsor will continue to be at risk.

Our federal regional cabinet representative should know that defending the forestry doctor who writes prescriptions without consulting the patient is not where we should start.

( Roger Pike writes from Grand Falls-Windsor. He can be contacted at roger.pike@nf.sympatico.ca)

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