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Cumberland County foresters not going down without a fight

Members of the Cumberland County forest industry came together Jan. 5 in Amherst with other community stakeholders and municipal and provincial politicians to discuss the future of the industry and the next steps following the province’s decision last month not to extend the Boat Harbour Act – a decision that’s expected to lead to the closure of Pictou County’s Northern Pulp mill at the end of January.
Members of the Cumberland County forest industry came together Jan. 5 in Amherst with other community stakeholders and municipal and provincial politicians to discuss the future of the industry and the next steps following the province’s decision last month not to extend the Boat Harbour Act – a decision that’s expected to lead to the closure of Pictou County’s Northern Pulp mill at the end of January. - Darrell Cole

Forest representatives to create their own transition team

AMHERST, N.S. —

Cumberland County’s forest industry is not going down without a fight.

While the sting has yet to dissipate following the province’s decision in December not to extend the deadline for Northern Pulp, industry representatives have come together with other community stakeholders to try to make the best of a bad situation.

With facilitator Frank Gallant of Peak Experience, more than 80 people came together Jan. 5 in Amherst to discuss the future of forestry and Cumberland County and met again Jan. 12 at the Community Credit Union Business Innovation Centre for a follow-up discussion around the coming closure of the pulp bill and strategies to support the county’s forest industry.

“This whole thing has been like a loss and there’s a lot of grieving going on. People in the industry are going through a wide range of emotions since last month. They’re sad and they’re angry, but they aren’t ready to give up,” Ian Ripley, executive director of the Athol Forestry Co-operative told the Amherst News. “This meeting was part of that process and now it’s a case of are we going to do about it. We going to put to move forward.”

The meetings were organized by the forestry co-op and Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and Cumberland South MLA Tory Rushton. They provided an opportunity for foresters to express their opinions about the province’s announcement not to extend the 2015 Boat Harbour Act and to explore options for moving forward.

Ripley said a lot is at stake with at least 600 direct and indirect jobs affected by the forest industry in Cumberland County. The county produces, on average, 20 per cent of Nova Scotia’s wood supply annually and there are approximately 800,000 hectares of forest in the county worth more than $400 million.

For Ripley and other forestry officials, the meeting was the first step on the road to recovery.

“The purpose of the meeting was to decide what we could be doing instead of sitting back and saying to ourselves that the government has made its decision and there’s nothing we can do,” Ripley said. “The context was to get a group of people together and talking about what we should or could be doing to make things better.”

The initial meeting decided to create a Cumberland County transition team to work with the provincial transition team that was announced by Premier Stephen McNeil and to find its own solutions.

“To me, that was the highlight of the meeting, that we’re going to continue to meet and we’re going to create our own transition team to help feed information and say what has to be said from our point of view on what’s really required on the transition from where we are to where we need to go,” Ripley said.

Ripley is looking forward to working with all the stakeholders to develop an action plan that has immediate, short-term and long-term goals for the industry and those affected by the potential closure of Northern Pulp in Pictou County.

“When you have more than 80 people coming together in a room to talk about options and what we can do it’s a positive. Even though the situation is not a good one, it’s important that we work together on solutions,” Ripley said. “The end result was seven pages of ideas. It was validated that those people want to continue meeting to develop an action plan. The meeting was good, but it was positive to see those people want to move ahead to the next step.”

Ultimately, the group wants to implement change, Ripley said, adding the ideal result would be government changing its mind on Northern Pulp, but he admitted that’s unlikely.

“There are some immediate outcomes that we need to work on such as the financial pressures that will be faced as well as stress and mental health pressures. We need to support those people who need it,” he said. “There’s also the three to six-month, six to 12-month and longer-term issues. One of the things we need to work on as well is the cultural changes this is going to cause in rural Nova Scotia.

“As long as there is people talking and working together on ideas and working hard to make improvements is a success to me. At this point, I’m happy to see people working together to find solutions.”

Ripley said there’s potential what’s being done could be modelled elsewhere in the province and he has already had discussions with forestry officials in other parts of Nova Scotia regarding what’s being done in Cumberland County.

Matt MacGillivary, who owns LG MacGillivary & Sons Lumbering Ltd., is cautiously optimistic some good will come out of the creation of a Cumberland County transition team.

“As an industry we are all the same way. We don’t know where we’re going or how we’re going to get there, but we’re all in the same boat,” he said. “If you looked at the people in that room there were a lot of people I knew from the contracting business but there were a lot of people there from other businesses. My accountant was there and I saw people from our suppliers. This is bigger than just the forest industry, it’s a community issue.

“Fact is we didn’t get to where we are without working for it and if we’re going to go down we’re not going to go down without fighting for it.”

MacGillivary, whose company employs approximately 30 people and conducts forest operations in Cumberland and Colchester counties, said the biggest thing is where does the industry go from here.

Many are wondering about how much work they are going to have in the future and while he supports the creation of a Cumberland County committee he’s curious what its action plan will be.

One thing he hopes is the provincial transition team, and the local one, represent everyone in the province because the forestry industry includes more than the people working in the woods.

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