BC NDP members from an electoral district association in Kamloops have passed a motion calling on the provincial government to investigate Paper Excellence, a pulp and paper operator that has recently grown to become the largest forestry products company in North America.
The motion, which was drafted and passed by BC NDP members in the Kamloops-North Thompson riding last week, 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 need a good investigation to determine the links between the foreign domination and corporate control of the industry,” said Garry Worth, a retired mill worker, former union leader and member of the BC NDP.
“Is China going to have our access to our resources through the backdoor?”
Rick Turner, president of the Kamloops-North Thompson BC NDP Electoral District Association, said he's already received informal support from a number of other BC NDP riding associations.
“This is a big concern and they should get involved,” said Turner. “I think we’ll get a lot of support for it.”
Federal investigation into Paper Excellence to summon CEO, minister
The Kamloops motion was passed only days after the federal Standing Committee on Natural Resources voted to to investigate the ownership structure and business relations of Paper Excellence.
“These are reasonable things to ask. It's not like you're assuming somebody's guilty. These are public lands or public resources. Let's get answers,” said NDP natural resource critic Charlie Angus, who submitted the motion to investigate Paper Excellence.
That motion, which passed in Ottawa March 31, calls on Paper Excellence’s owner, Jackson Wijaya, and Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne to testify before the committee.
Angus said he expects the parliamentary investigation to begin sometime in early May. In the meantime, the MP for Timmins-James Bay said the B.C. riding's call for a provincial investigation is a sign people are taking corporate concentration in forestry seriously.
“There’s a questioning period right now,” said Angus. “This is a very big company that people know very little about.”
“Anything that's done at the provincial level would be very helpful.”
In a statement to Glacier Media following the approval of committee investigations, Paper Excellence said it is committed to creating jobs and “maintaining a positive working relationship” with governments across Canada while respecting environmental regulations.
“Paper Excellence welcomes the opportunity to answer questions from the committee,” the statement read.
At the time, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests said it was monitoring the proceedings in Ottawa and the results of the federal review.
Multi-national investigation triggers calls for governments to probe company
The federal probe comes following a months-long journalistic investigation conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) — 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 gives the company control of over 20 million hectares of Canadian forests and makes Paper Excellence the largest forestry products company in North America.
As part of their investigation, Glacier Media and its ICIJ partners interviewed former employees and reviewed leaked emails that showed staff worked freely between Paper Excellence and APP.
The consortium of media outlets used shipping records and satellite tracking technology to trace one of Paper Excellence’s pulp shipments from B.C. to Shanghai through an APP-linked logistics company. The Asian conglomerate denied ever buying pulp “directly” from Paper Excellence.
The Halifax Examiner’s reporting led to insider allegations from a whistleblower who worked inside APP’s operations in Shanghai, and traced the legacy of Paper Excellence’s footprint at its Nova Scotia mill.
“In Nova Scotia, what caught my eye was the whole business of the environmental record,” said Turner.
“They leave other people to clean up.”
CBC reporters, meanwhile, looked into $1.25 billion in credit Paper Excellence obtained from the China Development Bank. The company did not answer several questions about the financial relationship, only stating it no longer held any debt with the Chinese state-owned bank.
And in Europe, reporters at Le Monde investigated how Paper Excellence’s French operations were linked to Asia Pulp and Paper’s operations in China and Indonesia; reporters at Radio France revealed a convicted wood thief acted as a supplier for Paper Excellence at the time the company cut down hundreds of ancient trees. A Paper Excellence spokesperson said it cut links with the firm once it learned of the accusations.
“We care about our province,” said Turner. “We’re worried, we’re concerned what Paper Excellence is going to do to people, the environment and companies.”
“The federal government has to be concerned with all of Canada. If we get the provincial government going on it too, all the better.”
Turner said he is planning to bring forward the motion at the NDP’s provincial council meeting in May.