NDP MP and natural resources critic Charlie Angus wanted the federal Standing Committee on Natural Resources to “summon” — legally require — Jackson Wijaya to appear before the committee.
Angus wants to ask Wijaya — said to be the “sole owner and shareholder” of Paper Excellence — about corporate structure of Paper Excellence and where he actually lives and works, and whether his office is in Shanghai in the Sinar Mas Plaza where Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) China has its offices.
Paper Excellence owns Northern Pulp and the shuttered mill in Nova Scotia.
APP, with a controversial environmental and financial record, is part of the massive Sinar Mas Group, owned and operated by Jackson Wijaya’s father, Teguh Ganda Wijaya.
But at yesterday’s meeting of the committee, John Aldag, Liberal MP and chair of the committee, told Angus the committee had simply reissued a non-binding “letter of invitation” to Jackson 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.”
Because the current session of parliament ends on June 30, Aldag said he would be discussing options with the committee members in a closed-door meeting after yesterday’s public one ended.
“Mr. Wijaya has expressed a willingness to come and testify before the committee,” said Aldag. “It just won’t be before the sessions ends. So that’s the dilemma we’re going to have.”
Wijaya declined an earlier invitation to appear before the parliamentary committee, writing a letter that said he was unable to attend because of “extensive global business commitments.” In his stead, Wijaya sent four Paper Excellence executives.
As the Halifax Examiner reported here, those executives were unable to answer a slew of questions from Angus and Bloc Québécois MP Mario Simard about the ownership of Paper Excellence.
Frustrated by the lack of answers from the Paper Excellence executives, Angus introduced a motion to have the committee issue a summons to Wijaya, although such a summons would not extend outside Canada.
In an interview, Angus later told the Halifax Examiner, “My concern is to make sure that if he’s touching down in Canada, he’s obligated to show up in parliament,” Angus said.
Wijaya’s failure to appear before the committee is now also making headlines in Brazil, where Paper Excellence also owns a large pulp mill.
Federal Industry Minister also ‘invited’ to appear
During a closed-door session of its June 2 meeting, the committee approved a motion from Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs to invite Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED, sometimes also called the Department of Industry) Minister François-Philippe Champagne to appear “for one hour alongside appropriate officials to discuss the ownership structure and business relations of Paper Excellence Corporation, and that the Chair schedule this meeting at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Committee members were dissatisfied with answers they received during that meeting from regulators in Champagne’s department.
The regulators admitted they had not done a “net benefit analysis” of Paper Excellence’s takeover of the North American pulp and paper giant Domtar in 2021, and Canada’s Resolute Forest Products in March 2023.
The regulators said no net benefit review was done because of a provision in Canada’s agreements with the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Paper Excellence is now Canada’s largest pulp and paper company, controlling 21% of the market and 22 million hectares of forest land, according to figures provided to the Halifax Examiner by the Forest Products Association of Canada.
At yesterday’s meeting, Aldag told the committee the invitation to ISED Minister Champagne has been issued, but there has been no response yet.
Following up on ‘Deforestation Inc.’ investigation
This was the third time the committee has met to scrutinize Paper Excellence and Canada’s pulp and paper industry.
Charlie Angus called for the meetings in response to the findings of a months-long investigation by the Halifax Examiner, CBC, Glacier Media, Le Monde and Radio France into Paper Excellence, part of the Deforestation Inc. investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
That investigation revealed many links between Paper Excellence and the Sinar Mas Group / APP, as did the October 2022 report “Papering over corporate control” by the Environmental Paper Network, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network and Woods & Wayside International.
At yesterday’s meeting Angus quizzed Greenpeace Canada’s Shane Moffatt more about that research and about claims made at previous meetings by Canadian regulators and Paper Excellence executives. This is part of that exchange:
Angus: There is no other industry in this country I think that touches as many people as forestry, because the towns that rely on them across Canada are completely dependent on them. Now, I know some of my colleagues around the table don’t think it’s that big a deal that 22 million hectares of Canadian forests were taken up by a man, a single man whose family connections are tied to some very, very controversial international operations. And he’s the sole owner. I personally think that a question of net benefit should have been asked, and wasn’t asked when the Domtar and Resolute takeovers were handled by the Wijaya family. Now, Mr. Moffitt, we were told by ISED that they didn’t bother to do a net benefit test that they said that the company [Paper Excellence] is based in Netherlands. Does that seem credible to you?
Moffatt: That does not reflect our findings of the totality of the ownership structure of paper excellence, no.
Angus: I was wondering whether or not ISED didn’t bother to check, even though there have been multiple reports about the connections to Asia Pulp & Paper. But ISED’s guidance on the filling out forms are very specific about the ultimate controller’s country of origin. So why would, for example, [Nova Scotia former] Premier McNeil fly all the way to Shanghai to meet with the Wijayas when government representatives told us that this is set up in the Netherlands? [The Examiner reported on this visit here.] Do you believe that there’s a good possibility that this WTO provision that they were talking about is to protect a company that is rooted at their headquarters in Shanghai?
Moffatt: From what I’ve seen, that that very may well be the case. I haven’t seen anything to disprove that right now.
And later came this exchange:
Angus: … we have been told by whistleblowers from Asia Pulp & Paper that Paper Excellence, which may be Asia Pulp & Paper in some form or another, that the reason they’re in Canada is a fibre grab, that their control of the mills is less important than their control of fibre to feed the big China machine … So would it be reasonable to say that we need to look at what kind of benefit is to Canadians to have this company controlling so much markets through so many murky shell companies shifting our forest products to China?
Moffatt: I guess I don’t know what could be worse. Whether (a), the [federal] government approved this deal not knowing how deeply connected Paper Excellence is to APP and Sinar Mas. Or (b), they did know and they did approve it anyway. Because the implications, the long-term implications for the logging industry in terms of where the fibre is going to go, who’s going to be controlling it, will that be supporting good local jobs or will it be all shipped out to build jobs elsewhere? Those are fundamental questions that remain unanswered.
The next meeting of the parliamentary committee on natural resources has yet to be scheduled. Once its investigation into Paper Excellence and Canada’s pulp and paper industry is completed, the committee will draft and submit a report to parliament.