Saturday, July 13, 2024
Fair Comment

Are we witnessing the planned death of Pontiac’s forestry sector?

Like most of us, I learned with a mixture of astonishment and sadness of the forthcoming dismantling of Davidson Sawmills, feelings that I admit were already very much in evidence following the loss of another sawmill, in Jovalco.
Are we, I thought, witnessing the planned death of Pontiac’s main industrial sector?
As I read the details of the decision, memories from the 1980s and 1990s came back to mind.
At the time, I was warden of the Pontiac MRC and mayor of Fort Coulonge. There was no shortage of work. To get anything from Quebec and the federal government, the region’s elected officials had to pull together. We managed to do this more often than not, and with good results. A case in point is the bike path that now links Bristol and Isle-aux-Allumettes, thanks to three Quebec grants over six years, totalling more than $1,000,000. It’s important to note that these grants were directly related to Pontiac’s forestry operations. This fine inter-municipal collaboration also made the difference in 1986 in obtaining a loan of over $850,000 from the Federal Business Development Bank to facilitate the resumption of operations at the Davidson sawmill. And what can we say about the development of Chutes Coulonge, of which we are proud, and which is the fruit of the work of all the mayors of the region at the time.
Today, I’m nostalgic for that wonderful solidarity. Indeed, how could I not be when I saw the region’s elected officials stand by in the face of the announcement of the closure of the Pontiac’s most important industrial site, with a promising project for the future of our region. It’s as if they’ve been struck down by laryngitis. Nothing is being done to change things. Not a word. No comments. Or very little. You’d think we’d told them: it doesn’t matter! You’d think they’d been told to shut up.
No matter how much I rack my brains, I can’t explain their silence. I can’t explain why we’re doing nothing to change things. Just as I can’t understand the current owner’s inability to re-obtain wood supply guarantee (GSR) reservations from the MRNF. They’ve been denied these reservations for five years now, year after year. Why these repeated refusals? God knows there’s no shortage of wood in our forests (Outaouais and Témis). Forests, incidentally, that are in dire need of cleaning . . . and therefore in need of an industrialist to recover pulpwood. Which, I’m told, would have been made possible by Énergie Davidson’s cogeneration plant project, which would have created good long-term jobs as well as generating electricity. From what I understood, the cogeneration plant that would have been installed on the Davidson industrial site would have played the same role as the pulp and paper mill in Portage. This would have enabled the forest to be cut for both lumber and pulpwood.
So, what’s the problem? The warden of the MRC says that the business plan submitted is deficient. I’d like to think so. But somebody explain it to me! Explain to me where it’s deficient. Why is it no longer good today, when the same business plan had made it possible to obtain GA reservations until November 2018 for lumber and pulpwood for the same project? I was told that this same business plan would have been improved, following the submission of a memorandum of understanding from a bio-fuel producer.
We can’t afford to turn our nose up at our main natural resource: wood. And what’s more, it’s a renewable resource. Until proven otherwise, forestry is Pontiac’s best hope for economic development. And yet, that’s what’s happening. In the end, it’s the other MRCs that will benefit from our shortcomings and incompetence. Forestry is what has allowed us to develop, and it’s what we know best.
Let’s continue to wear dark glasses as we watch each and every one of our municipal and provincial politicians continue to enrich sawmill owners in other MRCs. Let’s continue to wear dark glasses as we watch all the trucks loaded with our forestry resources pass along the 148 to deliver them outside our MRC. This way, we’ll continue to be the second poorest MRC in Quebec for years to come.
Pontiac deserves better than the current situation. So, what are we waiting for? Why not work accordingly, as we did in the past?

Hector (Junior) Soucie is a former mayor of Fort Coulonge and warden of MRC Pontiac

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