Montreal Gazette



Barriere Lake Algonquins want logging stopped in dispute with Ottawa, Quebec: Forestry firms face blockades if they don't suspend operations

Six forestry companies face native blockades of logging roads as a protest against perceived intransigence by the federal and Quebec governments unless the companies agree to suspend logging within a 10,000 square-kilometre tract of land north of Ottawa.

"If the companies physically try to go in, they will be physically stopped," Russell Diabo, an adviser to the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, said yesterday.

Similar action in the past resulted in an agreement first being reached in 1991.

Domtar Inc. has the largest stake in the area, accounting for about 60 per cent of the 800,000 to one million cubic metres of lumber available for harvest, he said. The other firms are Commonwealth Plywood, Bowater, Louisiana Pacific, Makibois and Tembec Davidson.

Harvests would normally take place once the land freezes in one to three weeks.

At issue is the federal government's refusal to recognize the band's leadership and Quebec's delay in approving recommendations of an integrated resource management plan.

Letters were sent Friday to the companies, telling them the community "wants all forestry operations suspended until some matters are cleared up" between the Algonquins and the two governments.

Domtar spokesman Christian Tardif wouldn't discuss the matter.

A suspension in the harvest would probably have no appreciable impact on operations of the affected companies, a Montreal analyst said.

"They'll negotiate in good faith, obviously, with the native bands and everybody else, but they'll probably say, we could probably use the downtime," said Richard Kelertes of Dundee Securities Corp.

The southern entry to the land is about 150 kilometres north of Ottawa.

The band is angry because Quebec has not responded "in a timely manner" to recommendations made last July by Quebec special representative John Ciaccia and Barriere Lake special representative Clifford Lincoln, and Ottawa has failed to recognize the council nominated by Barriere Lake elders.

"As a result of Quebec's delay in responding to the special representatives' report, we have reached the conclusion that Quebec is no longer acting in good faith," Chief Jean Maurice Matchewan said in a statement.

"The Algonquins of Barriere Lake also view Canada's actions or inactions, particularly its refusal to recognize the composition and authority of our customary council, as bad faith and as disruptive of the trilateral agreement."

Lincoln said the dispersed native community of 500 has few other options available to push their interests.

"When you get to the point where you have exhausted all means and the frustration is running very deep, you just use your last ace in the hole," he said.

The former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister primarily blames the previous federal Liberal government and the current Conservative administration for being "totally intractable."

The Algonquins want Quebec Superior Court Justice Rejean Paul to act as mediator to resolve the question of leadership and then the substantive disagreements over the management plan.

Lincoln said the plan could provide the community with $1.5 million a year from Quebec, a say in the long-term management of the forest and fauna, and about $17 million over seven years from the federal government for housing.

It "gives a chance for the Algonquins to have a say in things that go on in their territory ... and develop their own skills over the years instead of just being passengers waiting for governments to dish out programs to them."

The native community has had good relations with the forestry companies, which have struggled with reduced provincial harvest quotas, a high Canadian dollar and punishing U.S. softwood tariffs, Diabo said.

"It's not the intent of the community to hurt the companies, but on the other hand, they don't want to see the forest areas and sites that they have identified damaged, and the plans that they have worked on ignored all these years."