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BC NDP warns motion to investigate forestry company 'out of order'

Plans to investigate Paper Excellence's ownership structure and business ties now face delays at the federal and provincial level.
A pile of wood chips next to Paper Excellence's Skookumchuck pulp mill in B.C.'s East Kootenay region.

The president of the BC NDP has warned members of a riding association their motion to investigate the forestry company Paper Excellence would be ruled “out of order” because it didn’t meet requirements laid out under the party’s constitution.

The motion, recently submitted by BC NDP members in the Kamloops-North Thompson riding, calls on the Ministry of Forests to conduct a “thorough investigation” of Paper Excellence that includes interrogating owner Jackson Wijaya and the company’s links to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) and the Sinar Mas Group.

“We were all surprised,” said Rick Turner, president of the Kamloops-North Thompson BC NDP Electoral District Association (EDA).

BC NDP president Aaron Sumexheltza declined to comment on the situation and deferred to his staff. According to the party’s provincial director Heather Stoutenburg, the motion can’t go to council because it doesn’t amplify or extend any previous resolutions.

“In this particular instance, the resolution submitted was VERY specific and we don’t have anything on the books related to Paper Excellence, so they’d be starting from scratch,” wrote Stoutenburg in an email.

Stoutenburg said the EDA could submit the motion as it stands at the party’s convention in November.

“The BC NDP's official policy must be debated and adopted by a majority vote of delegates at our bi-annual conventions,” Sumexheltza was later quoted in a written statement. “We look forward to a lively discussion this November on a number of issues that affect British Columbians.”

Turner said he worries the longer governments wait to investigate the company, the harder it will be.

Federal investigation into Paper Excellence faces its own delays

On March 31, the federal Standing Committee on Natural Resources voted to investigate the ownership structure and business relations of Paper Excellence. That decision came following a months-long investigation conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — including media partners Glacier Media, the CBC, the Halifax Examiner, Le Monde and Radio France — into the company’s overseas ties.

That investigation revealed a nexus of links between Paper Excellence and Asia Pulp and Paper, a forestry and paper conglomerate environmental groups allege has been responsible for widespread deforestation, human rights abuses and conflicts with Indigenous communities. Both companies say they are independent of one another.

With a headquarters listed in Richmond, B.C., Paper Excellence holds dozens of pulp and paper mills across Canada, the U.S., Brazil and France. In March, it closed its latest multibillion-dollar acquisition of Resolute Forest Products, a deal that now gives the company control of over 22 million hectares of Canadian forests and makes Paper Excellence the largest forestry products company in North America.

Last week, the first session of the federal investigation was cancelled after a last-minute realization they lacked enough committee support staff.

The sessions to investigate Paper Excellence have not yet been rescheduled and it’s not clear when the committee will begin questioning the company.

Back in B.C., Turner said he will meet with members of his executive team next week to decide what course of action to take.

“There’s a number of options available to us,” he said. “I never panic.”

Turner's fellow BC NDP riding association member Garry Worth said he hopes they’ll find a way to push the motion forward.

“We were hoping that the government would see the need to examine [Paper Excellence’s] corporate concentration and foreign dominance in the B.C. pulp and paper industry,” said the retired mill worker and former union leader in an email.

Worth added over the phone: “Corporate concentration and foreign ownership is a real problem in B.C.”

“I’m concerned that the NDP members and the MLAs are not going to be informed about this.”