Federal NDP member of parliament and natural resources critic Charlie Angus has a long list of questions for Paper Excellence when it appears before the parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources, as the committee agreed it would ask the corporation to do at its last meeting on March 31.
It was Angus who introduced the motion to invite Paper Excellence owner Jackson Wijaya to appear before the committee, “as well as Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and appropriate officials, as well as other relevant witnesses,” to “discuss the ownership structure and business relations of Paper Excellence Corporation, and that the committee report these findings back to Parliament.”
Angus introduced the motion to devote up to two future meetings of the Natural Resources Committee to the issue after reading media reports about Paper Excellence published by the Halifax Examiner, CBC, Glacier Media, Le Monde and Radio France, which worked together on an investigation into the corporation as part of the global Deforestation Inc. project led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
That reporting revealed links between Paper Excellence owned by Jackson Wijaya, and Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) owned by his father Tejuh Ganda Wijaya (sometimes also Widjaja), which is part of the Wijaya family’s massive multi-billion dollar Sinar Mas Group.
APP and Paper Excellence told the media they operate entirely independently of each other.
Paper Excellence owns the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County, and also 420,000 acres of timberland in the province, which was bought in 2010 by the mill’s previous owner with a $75 million loan from the provincial government, and is not being repaid while Northern Pulp is under creditor protection in the British Columbia Supreme Court. Paper Excellence and Northern Pulp have also filed a lawsuit against Nova Scotia that could exceed $450 million for lost profits because of the closing of the mill in 2020.
Related: Parliamentary committee to investigate ownership of Paper Excellence
Related: Deforestation Inc: Media investigation into Paper Excellence ignites concern on Parliament Hill over the company’s mysterious ownership, Chinese ties, and rapid expansion in Canada
The “Deforestation Inc” articles highlighted the recent and rapid expansion of Paper Excellence in Canada, with its acquisition of Catalyst Paper in British Columbia in 2019, the North American pulp and paper giant Domtar in 2021, and on March 1 this year, of Resolute Forest Products. With this latest acquisition, Paper Excellence now controls 21% of Canada’s pulp and paper industry, and 22 million hectares of forest land in the country, an area four times the size of Nova Scotia.
In a telephone interview with the Halifax Examiner, Angus said even though his riding of Timmins – James Bay in northern Ontario represents a forestry region, before the media articles came out, he had never heard about Paper Excellence.
The rapid expansion of the corporation in Canada was, Angus said, “all very much below the radar” and there was very little awareness of it. He added:
But that being said, it’s the job of the federal government when they’re allowing takeovers of giant companies like Domtar and Resolute to do the due diligence to look into these companies. And we want to know what was done, what assurances were given, and what proof was given about how this company is structured and who owns it.
I think that it’s a reasonable expectation that when we are entrusting the public lands of Canada to a company, that we know who they are. And to find out that there’s a whole series of corporate entities and holdings in all manner of offshore locations is a red flag. The allegations of deforestation and environmental problems with Asia Pulp and Paper are very concerning, particularly if this company [Paper Excellence] has connections [with APP]. We need to examine that. So we need to get those answers. And the fact that they are holding 22 million hectares of Canadian forest land; we need to know how are they going to operate those mills. If they shut those mills down, would the wood feed go back to the province or stay in their hands. And there’s a lot of questions we don’t we don’t have answers to.
“But now that these issues are being raised, I think it’s reasonable that we reassure the public,” Angus said.
When Paper Excellence appears before the Natural Resources Standing Committee at future meetings, the dates of which have yet to be set, Angus has high expectations:
I expect that Paper Excellence will be more than forthcoming in showing us their corporate structure, their ownership structure, their connections to APP [Asia Pulp & Paper], who owns what, what’s their relationship to Sinar Mas, are they a wing of it or are they separate? That should be a pretty straightforward answer.
I want to know how all these offshore locations tie in to who actually makes the decisions. Are the decisions being made here in Canada or someplace else? I want answers on that. I want answers from federal officials on what they did to check the records of any connection between APP, Sinar Mas, Chinese bank financing and Paper Excellence. Due diligence has to be done, and when you’re approving the takeovers of Canadian assets like Resolute. So what was done and we expect – I think he’s the head of a Paper Excellence – Mr. Jackson Wijaya to come and answer straightforward questions. And we may have other witnesses as well that may give us a broader picture of this company.
Paper Excellence sent a statement to the Examiner on March 31, saying:
Paper Excellence welcomes the opportunity to answer questions from the [Natural Resources] committee. We are committed to creating jobs and growing Canada’s forestry sector, maintaining a positive working relationship with government at all levels across the country. Paper Excellence strictly complies with environmental regulations; Domtar and Resolute share our commitment to the environment.
It is well known that Jackson Wijaya, the ultimate and sole owner of Paper Excellence, is the son of the current head of APP. In the early days, Jackson benefited from some experience gained from the family business early in his life, as well as support getting his company started. This is hardly a unique or exceptional circumstance.
The situation is entirely different today. Jackson operates Paper Excellence independently. Many stakeholders and regulators – global funding institutions, regulatory bodies and certifiers, among others – have acknowledged this reality. Paper Excellence’s acquisition of Resolute was extensively reviewed under the Investment Canada Act.
Fibre pipeline to China?
Angus thinks Nova Scotians should be asking why Paper Excellence’s Northern Pulp still has a licence to harvest on Crown land in the province even though its pulp mill is not operating. As the Examiner reported here, Northern Pulp is still enjoying access to public forested land in Nova Scotia the pulp mill owners were granted by the 1965 Scott Maritimes Act, and its most recent licence that is up for renewal in July this year covers 308,000 hectares of Crown land.
Related: Deforestation Inc. (article 5): Nova Scotia opts for forest certification scheme critics call ‘greenwashing’
Angus noted that several of the Deforestation Inc. articles suggested the Paper Excellence expansion in Canada is part of a “fibre and pulp pipeline to China.”
“I want answers on that. I want to be able to know, are they coming here to run plants that will meet the highest ecological, environmental and labour standards and be good corporate citizens?” Angus said.
“And if they are, then they should be willing to tell us how they’re structured and who signs the cheques at the end of the day. Those are straightforward questions.”
Angus also thinks it would be premature for the federal government to sign the trade agreement it is currently negotiating with Indonesia.
“I would be very wary of signing a free trade agreement with Indonesia when we need answers as to how 22 million hectares of Canadian forests are being held and who owns them and whether or not they are part of this Indonesian group,” he told the Examiner. “Because I think we’d be turning over way too much control and that would not be a good situation.”
Angus said he has not heard from any provincial governments yet about the recent media findings on Paper Excellence, or on his motion to have the company studied by the federal Natural Resources Committee.
The Examiner has asked the leaders of four political parties in Nova Scotia for their reactions to the media findings and the federal parliamentary committee’s investigation into Paper Excellence, and will be reporting on responses when they are received in coming days.
“I expect that Paper Excellence will be more than forthcoming in showing us their corporate structure, their ownership structure, their connections to APP [Asia Pulp & Paper],”
Good luck with that Charlie—so far the only answer we get from Paper Excellence is deny,deny,deny about any link to APP or the Sinar Mas Group.
They’ve been put on the spot by journalists around the world and they refuse to answer the question. The biggest problem in Nova Scotia is that they have tenure to thousands of hectares of public land—zero in on that so the people realize the problem with that and maybe the government will do something about it.
Let’s hope the BC government conducts a similar investigation about the company—but I suspect they’ve got insiders looking after their nefarious agenda here as well.