(Updated with comments from Charlie Angus)
Jackson Wijaya, “founder and owner” of Paper Excellence, now Canada’s largest pulp and paper player and also the owner of the Northern Pulp mill in Nova Scotia, has once again snubbed the federal Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources.
For the second time, Wijaya has declined an invitation to appear before the committee to answer questions about the opaque ownership and complex corporate structure of Paper Excellence, with affiliates scattered around the globe in popular tax havens.
At the start of the October 4 meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources, NDP natural resources critic and MP for Timmins-James Bay, Charlie Angus, asked the new chair, Liberal MP George Chahal, for “some clarification” on the committee’s efforts to have Wijaya appear before them.
It’s been four months since our committee passed a motion asking Mr. Jackson Wijaya to appear. There was discussion whether we needed to issue a summons for him to appear, and my understanding is that there were negotiations. But four months is a very long time.
We have been approached by Paper Excellence to come and have drinks with them at the Métropolitain [Brasserie & Restaurant in Ottawa]. We’ve been told we could look at some of their documents. They’ve asked us to keep them [the documents] all in confidence. We’ve agreed to all of that, but we have not had Mr. Wijaya.
We don’t know who how this company structured. We don’t know the relation of [Paper Excellence with] Asia Pulp and Paper. We don’t know the Sinar Mas Group, whether it’s a family business. But they are holding massive holdings of Canadian equity right now.
Asia Pulp and Paper and the Sinar Mas Group are both part of the massive corporate empire of the multi-billionaire Sino-Indonesian Widjaja (sometimes Wijaya) family.
So I’m wanting to know whether or not a summons will need to be issued, or whether Mr. Wijaya is willing to come or whether they’ve just decided that our committee is something they’re not paying attention to, because I think it would send a very wrong message to the people of Canada if our committee is unable to finish this study.
Chahal turned the question over to the committee clerk, who offered this update:
I have followed up with Paper Excellence as of last week, and was informed in writing on September 27 that they have declined the invitation for Mr. Wijaya to appear.
Angus, with a look of shocked disbelief on his face, replied:
So to that end, Mr. Wijaya is in control of major Canadian resources, and he’s declining to appear before committee to explain how his company structured. Is that what I just heard?
The clerk then said, “I only received a written confirmation that he has declined the invitation to appear.”
I won’t take any more time, but we will be issuing a summons or asking the committee to consider a summons, because I think that is an absolute disrespect to Parliament and a slap in the face, particularly to people who are dependent on natural resource communities. And we want to make sure that we have a good corporate partner, not somebody who thinks they can just buy up assets and ignore us. So I will be moving forward a motion. We can discuss it later.
Media investigation ignites MPs’ concerns
The invitations to Wijaya to appear before parliament’s natural resources committee stem from the recent Deforestation Inc. project, led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Deforestation Inc. involved a months-long investigation by the Halifax Examiner, CBC, Glacier Media, Le Monde and Radio France into Paper Excellence. The investigation delved into links between Paper Excellence and the Sinar Mas Group and Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which has a poor environmental and financial record. It followed up on the findings in the October 2022 report “Papering over corporate control” by the Environmental Paper Network, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and Woods & Wayside International.
In recent years, Paper Excellence has been swallowing up pulp and paper companies in North America — including Catalyst Paper in British Columbia, Domtar, and most recently Resolute Forest Products.
According to figures provided to the Halifax Examiner in a February 27, 2023 email from Kerry Patterson-Baker, vice president communication and public affairs for the Forest Products Association of Canada, these acquisitions mean Paper Excellence manages about 22 million hectares of forest land in the country — an area four times the size of Nova Scotia — with control of about 21% of the market share of Canada’s pulp and paper industry.
Related: Deforestation Inc: Media investigation into Paper Excellence ignites concerns on Parliament Hill over the company’s mysterious ownership, Chinese ties, and rapid expansion in Canada (March 22, 2023)
Too many “global business commitments” to appear
Concerned by the findings of the media investigation, in March this year Angus called on the natural resources committee to look into Paper Excellence.
The committee agreed to undertake a study into the Canadian forest products industry, and invite Jackson Wijaya to appear to answer questions about Paper Excellence’s ownership structure and business relations.
On May 1, responding to the first invitation to appear before the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources to respond to questions about the ownership structure and business relations of Paper Excellence, Wijaya wrote that he was “unable to attend due to extensive global business commitments.”
In his stead, Wijaya sent four “senior leadership team members” to respond to questions.
As the Examiner reported here, the Paper Excellence executives left many questions unanswered.
Since other witnesses have appeared virtually before the committee, it is intriguing — or telling — that Wijaya couldn’t spare even an hour to answer questions from elected officials in Canada about his company, which claims to be “headquartered in British Columbia.”
Related: Parliamentary committee to examine corporate ownership of Paper Excellence (March 31, 20023)
Related: NDP Natural Resources critic Charlie Angus speaks about Paper Excellence (April 12, 2023)
Related: Parliamentary committee may summons Paper Excellence owner Jackson Wijaya (May 31, 2023)
Related: Regulators stonewall Parliamentary committee looking into ownership of Paper Excellence (June 5, 2023)
After declined invitations, a summons?
Before parliament began its summer recess, at the June 6 natural resources committee meeting, Angus said he wanted the federal committee to issue an official summons to Jackson Wijaya to attend a future meeting.
However Liberal MP and then-chair of the committee, John Aldag, told Angus the committee had simply reissued a non-binding “letter of invitation” to Wijaya, asking that he appear.
“We are in negotiations right now with his office about trying to find a time for him to appear,” said Aldag. “It does not appear that he will be in Canada before the end of June.”
“Mr. Wijaya has expressed a willingness to come and testify before the committee,” Aldag assured the committee. “It just won’t be before the sessions ends. So that’s the dilemma we’re going to have.”
So much for Wijaya’s earlier “willingness” to appear before the Canadian members of parliament.
Related: Natural Resources committee refuses to summon Paper Excellence’s Wijaya (June 7, 2023)
Now that Wijaya has once again refused a polite invitation from the committee, it remains to be seen if the parliamentarians will find a backbone, and this time vote in favour of a motion from Angus to issue a summons for him to appear.
‘Unprecedented lack of transparency’
On September 19, Greenpeace Canada’s head of nature and food campaign, Shane Moffatt, sent a letter to the natural resources committee, congratulating committee members for the “important work” they were doing to “uncover the true ownership and intentions of Paper Excellence.”
Now holding sway over vast areas of forests across five provinces, the company is poised to have a massive and lasting impact on the health of these ecosystems, communities and Indigenous lands. The company also wields tremendous political influence with its enormous and well resourced team of lobbyists and industry associations.
Over the summer Paper Excellence seems to have finalized its takeover of Resolute Forest Products by announcing the departure of Resolute CEO Remi Lalonde for an astonishing $15 million along with dismissal of Resolute’s former board of directors.
Moffatt also wrote that almost 10,000 Canadians had “in a few short weeks” called on Paper Excellence owner Jackson Wijaya to finally appear before the Committee.
Moffatt tells the Examiner that he has had no reply to his letter to the committee or the petition.
Asked for his thoughts on Wijaya’s September letter to the committee declining the parliamentarians’ invitation to appear before them, Moffatt replies:
It shows a stunning lack of respect for the Canadian public and an unbelievable lack of transparency. By failing to appear, Jackson Wijaya is making a mockery of the Committee and our elected officials. If this is how Paper Excellence deals with Members of Parliament, what chance do local communities have dealing with them?
Canadians still deserve answers. The Committee should now do everything in its power to compel Mr. Wijaya, wherever he is, to appear and honestly answer questions on the record.
In the longer term, the fact that Paper Excellence can operate with such secrecy shows that we need stronger regulations to ensure the public knows exactly who is logging forests across Canada, what the impacts are and who is profiting from it all.
Our forests are at a crossroads. Industrial logging and climate change have left them in a terrible state, with declining wildlife and growing protests. In the face of this crisis the last thing we need is a secretive multinational corporation, with ties to global deforestation, coming in to make a quick buck off the forests that are still standing.
Snubbing parliamentarians, suing Nova Scotians
Although it is a federal committee trying to have Wijaya owner appear before them, as the Examiner has reported, Nova Scotians have particularly high stakes in the findings of the committee investigation into Paper Excellence, and its corporate structure and business operations. Paper Excellence owns the Northern Pulp mill and 420,000 acres of land in Nova Scotia, and Northern Pulp still owes the province more than $86 million.
Northern Pulp has been enjoying creditor protection in the British Columbia Supreme Court since June 2020 after the closure of the Northern Pulp mill. In December 2021, Paper Excellence and its Northern Pulp companies filed a lawsuit against Nova Scotia that could exceed $450 million because of losses the companies say they incurred because of that closure.
That lawsuit is part of closed-door mediation that Supreme Court of British Columbia Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick forced on Nova Scotia, as part of Northern Pulp’s creditor protection case. Northern Pulp affidavits to the court show that Paper Excellence wants the provincial government to fast-track the environmental approval process for a renovated mill and new effluent treatment facility, which would pipe treated pulp effluent into Pictou Harbour.
At the end of August, in an affidavit to the BC court, “Acting Mill Manager of Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation” Dale Paterson asked that the creditor protection be extended – for the tenth time — for another three months, this time until November 30 so that the “mediation process” with Nova Scotia could continue.
“If a resolution cannot be reached among the Mediation Parties shortly, the petitioners [Northern Pulp and its affiliates] and other stakeholders [Paper Excellence] will need time to prepare materials an redirect their attention toward an alternate means of restructuring,” wrote Paterson.
British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Kevin Loo agreed to the November 30 extension.
Given what is at stake for Nova Scotia – a $450 million lawsuit, more than $86 million owed by Northern Pulp to the province and about $7 million worth of special pension payments still unpaid, and the company’s demands for a fast-tracked environmental and industrial approval process for re-opening the Northern Pulp mill – any opportunity to question Wijaya about the actual ownership and workings of Northern Pulp owner Paper Excellence before November 30 would be both welcome and invaluable.
The Examiner sent an email to Paper Excellence asking why Wijaya had declined the latest invitation to appear before the committee, but as of publication has had no reply.
Shortly after publication of this article, Charlie Angus replied to our earlier request for comments on the situation with this update:
I will be putting forward a motion to the committee asking that a legal summons be issued for Mr. Wijaya to testify in Ottawa. The summons has no legal power if Mr. Wijaya refuses to come to Canada but if he enters the country for any business or personal reason it is actionable. I believe a refusal to respect the summons would send a strong and negative message from Mr. Wijaya towards Canada’s parliament and the communities who are dependent on his corporate control.
In the past we have dealt with a very small group of individuals who refused to testify. If Mr. Wijaya opts to become part of this group, it would raise questions about whether or not he is afraid to answer the legitimate questions that have come forward about his family’s control of vast swathes of the world’s forests and his connections to Sinar Mas and Asia Pulp and Paper. Mr. Wijaya could appear virtually if he so chose. The committee has bent over backwards to accommodate him.
We have requested access to corporate documents which will be available to the committee to view next week. We agreed to keep the information in confidence because we wanted Mr. Wijaya to know that our committee was committed to a fair process.
At the beginning of September his staff invited our committee members to the Metropolitan restaurant near Parliament. I thought that it was highly inappropriate that we participate until Mr. Wijaya had made a committee appearance. Otherwise it would look like we were being played.