There is growing agreement among Members of Parliament of all parties that there is a need for a parliamentary investigation into the corporate structure of Paper Excellence.
Yesterday, Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins—James Bay, introduced a motion to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources asking for a debate on Paper Excellence, given recent media reports about the company’s complex and opaque corporate structure, with shell companies in myriad offshore jurisdictions, which he said, “are tied back to Indonesia and the Sinar Mas Group,” which owns Asia Pulp & Paper (APP).
Angus was referring to articles published about Paper Excellence in recent weeks by a host of media outlets — the Halifax Examiner, CBC, Glacier Media, Le Monde, Radio France — working on a joint investigation as part of the Deforestation Inc. project led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The “Deforestation Inc” media articles detailed links between Paper Excellence, which is said to be owned by Jackson Wijaya, and Asia Pulp & Paper / Sinar Mas, which is owned by his father, Tejuh Ganda Wijaya (sometimes also spelled as Widjaja). Both Paper Excellence and APP told ICIJ that the two corporations operate independently and are separate from each other.
CBC’s investigation also revealed that in 2012, Paper Excellence had US$1.25 billion worth of mortgages with a debenture on three Canadian pulp mills from a Chinese government-owned bank.
In the last four years, Paper Excellence has been undergoing massive and rapid expansion in Canada.
It acquired Catalyst Paper in British Columbia in 2019, and pulp and paper giant Domtar with its huge presence throughout North America in 2021. On March 1 this year, Paper Excellence also swallowed Resolute Forest Products, via its new subsidiary Domtar, giving it 21% of the market share of pulp and paper in Canada and making it by far the largest player in the industry in the country.
Related: Deforestation Inc: How an email from China triggered an international investigative journalism project
Angus said that with its latest acquisition, Paper Excellence now controls 22 million hectares of Canadian forests. That is an area large enough to fit the province of Nova Scotia four times.
At yesterday’s committee meeting, Angus peppered Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson with questions about the federal review process that gave Paper Excellence the green light to acquire Resolute Forest Products, and whether the federal government even knows who Paper Excellence is.
That led to a lively back-and-forth between the two.
Paper Excellence’s acquisition of Resolute was subject to the National Security Review provisions under the Investment Canada Act, and Canada’s lead security agencies were consulted on the transaction. Recognizing the need to ensure this investment continues to be in Canada’s best interest, as part of the review process, the investor has provided meaningful commitments to Canada, which include strong levels of investment in facilities in Quebec, maintaining existing patents, maintaining Canadian participation on Resolute’s board and senior management team, and adhering to Canada employment and environmental law.
To which Angus had this reply, zeroing in on the record of Paper Excellence’s Northern Pulp:
I find that interesting because let’s look at Northern Pulp in Nova Scotia, where this company’s given an $85 million holiday for money they owe the people of Nova Scotia. They failed to pay $2.5 million special pension payments. In December 2021, they launched a lawsuit against the people of Nova Scotia to the level of $450 million of indemnified losses because of the position of the plant and Boat Harbour was shut down. And a report recently said the Northern Pulp mill there exceeded the federal threshold of emissions by 100,000 percent. I’d never heard that number anywhere. So how could a company that is suing the people of Nova Scotia, that has such a bad environmental track record, how can they assure the federal government that they are going to abide by Canada’s law and be good corporate partners?
Wilkinson then pointed out that the Investment Canada Act is not his responsibility as Natural Resources Minister, but that of the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, who carried out the review of the Resolute takeover.
So would you say then that the review looked into their connection to the Asia Pulp & Paper company? Because there are serious questions about the issue of pulp and paper, about human rights violations, environmental damage. Even accusations of murder against human rights activists. And the connection between APP and Paper Excellence seems to be that they’re the same family, same people. And the allegation is that this is set up as a quote “fibre grab” for Chinese mills backed by Chinese banks. So can you confirm whether or not that was investigated?
Angus also asked what the federal government knows about Jackson Wijaya, whom Paper Excellence told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is the “ultimate owner” of the company:
I’m wondering if you could tell us whether or not Jackson Wijaya Limantara … is he a Canadian citizen? Is he a permanent resident of Canada? I mean … it seems that he’s all part of the Wijaya family which has a value of $10.8 billion, one of the wealthiest families in Indonesia, sole shareholder of the Sinar Mas China Investment Corporation, they own 100% shares of the seven Asia pulp and paper mills in China. Can you tell us whether or not this man is living in Canada or is this business being run out of Shanghai?
Wilkinson replied that “it is important for Canadians to understand ownership of Canadian forests, and also to ensure we are very thoughtful about the acceptance of Chinese investment.”
“As you know, we actually turned down three companies that were actually raising money in the critical mineral space from Chinese state-owned enterprises,” said Wilkinson. “These are all the questions that obviously the national security folks would have actually looked at under the Investment Canada Act.”
Related: Northern Pulp is in a polluting league of its own
Related: Northern Pulp says it is ‘insolvent’ and can’t pay its pension obligations, but it’s got plenty of cash to bankroll legal assaults on Nova Scotia’s government and laws
Related: Deforestation Inc: Are Paper Excellence and Asia Pulp & Paper linked companies? They say they aren’t. This is what we’ve learned.
Wilkinson did agree that it is the purview of the Natural Resources Standing Committee “to seek more detail from the relevant authorities” into the company.
In an interview after the meeting, Wilkinson told the Halifax Examiner and CBC that before the Deforestation Inc articles about Paper Excellence were published he was not aware of any links between Asia Pulp & Paper, and Paper Excellence, and the Wijaya family. He reiterated that the Investment Canada review of the Paper Excellence acquisition of Resolute involved “the appropriate security agencies” and is run out of Industry Canada, not Natural Resources Canada.
Support for the motion from other parties
Following the meeting of the Natural Resources Committee yesterday in Ottawa, Nova Scotia Liberal MP Kody Blois representing Kings—Hants told the Halifax Examiner that the committee had work to do “in relation to some of the revelations” about Paper Excellence, and about whether there is a need to be concerned “about the idea of Chinese domination in the financing” of the company.
Blois said he wasn’t sure the Natural Resources Committee or another committee “tied to the Investment Act” was the “proper vehicle” for such work, but said he looked forward to “the conversation.”
Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs who represents Lakeland, Alberta (and who happens to be the granddaughter of Dartmouth’s first female mayor, the late Eileen Stubbs) said she supports Angus’ aims to get more information on the review that was done of the Paper Excellence takeover of Resolute Forest Products under the Canada Investment Act.
Stubbs told the Examiner she thinks it would be “helpful” if Jackson Wijaya were called on to appear before the Natural Resources Committee where he could be asked about relations between Paper Excellence and APP.
“It’s always best to be able to question directly decision-makers and executives in key issues like this, which are not just about investment or the project in itself, but I think about core values around sovereignty and economic security and protecting the best interests of all Canadians,” Stubbs said.
Bloc Québécois MP Mario Simard, representing Jonquière, said he is ready to support Angus’ motion for a debate on Paper Excellence in the Natural Resources Committee.
Simard said he published a letter in November 2022 in the media about the risks of the Paper Excellence takeover of Resolute Forest Products, and didn’t have a meeting with Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, François-Philippe Champagne, until the end of January 2023.
“I would have liked him [Champagne] to do exactly what he did about critical minerals and Chinese participation,” said Simard. “I think he could have done something similar [with Paper Excellence.]”
In November 2022, the federal government ordered Chinese companies to divest their holdings in Canadian-listed mining firms planning to develop lithium mines in Canada.
In an earlier interview with the Examiner, Green Party co-leader Elizabeth May said her first reaction to the recent media coverage of Paper Excellence was “vast relief” that there was now public attention on the company. May said that in her view, Paper Excellence’s record in Canada was “very disturbing” even before they began their recent buying spree of pulp and paper companies in Canada.
“My next reaction was real shock at the connection with the China Development Bank,” said May.
May said she intends to raise questions about Paper Excellence in the House of Commons before it goes on Easter Break.
‘A matter of national importance’
Asked for his reaction to Minister Wilkinson’s answers about Paper Excellence and its acquisition of Resolute Forest Products, Angus said he found them “really concerning.”
“The government says that they did a full security review, a full analysis, that they were provided the documents,” said Angus. “I don’t get a sense that they did the due diligence. And are they now scrambling to figure this thing out?” He continued:
And what’s really concerning here is that this is a company that we don’t know who they are. We don’t know how they’re really set up. They seem to be connected all the way back continually to Asia Pulp and Paper and to this Indonesian family … This is beyond forestry policy at the provincial level, whether it’s in Nova Scotia, Quebec, or Ontario. The federal government approved this. The federal government has to take responsibility, particularly in these allegations that this is a fibre pipeline to Chinese mills. There’s a whole series, I think, of federal obligations that they have to be able to answer. And I didn’t hear today answers from the minister that they have addressed this issue clearly. But my gut feeling is that they’re realizing they’ve got a big problem on their hands.
Angus seems optimistic that his motion for an investigation into Paper Excellence will get the support it needs:
I think this issue is of national importance. I think this is going to touch Canadians across the country. We all care about environment and our forests. We’re talking about jobs. And we’re also talking, I think, some serious security issues in terms of this company. We need to know who they are. So I’d be very surprised if people vote against it [his motion]. And I want to send out the request to have the key officials, including whether or not this man [Jackson Wijaya] is a CEO or not, I want them to appear before our committee and they better be willing to appear. And we can we have the power of summons if we have to. They need to explain to Canadians who they are and what their plans are in Canada.
Angus told the Examiner that he thinks people in Nova Scotia should be “very, very concerned” that their federal elected members have not spoken up about Paper Excellence.
“To me this is negligence,” he said. “There’s a real concerning track record with this company. And certainly at that mill [Northern Pulp] there are serious questions about what their obligations are to the community, to the province, to the environment.”
During the Committee meeting, Angus specifically mentioned the $450 million lawsuit that Paper Excellence has filed against Nova Scotia, Northern Pulp’s failure to pay millions of dollars in special pensions it owes, and the fact that while it is enjoying creditor protection in the British Columbia Supreme Court, it is not making payments on more than $85 million in outstanding loans to Nova Scotia.
Related: Deforestation Inc: Paper Excellence and the ‘environmental insult’ to a First Nation community
“I think people in Nova Scotia should be looking at their MLAs and their MPs and saying, ‘What they hell is going on and why has this been allowed to happen?”
The Halifax Examiner requested an interview with Sean Fraser, Nova Scotia Liberal MP and federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, in whose Central Nova riding the Northern Pulp mill is located, and with Andy Fillmore, MP for Halifax and parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, who carried out the review of the Paper Excellence acquisition of Resolute Forest Products.
Neither has responded.
Outstanding, Joan! Thank you so much for your persistence with this crazy saga. Maybe now with some fedral attention Nova Scotians might actually see some justice for the years of corporate malfeasance, corporate welfare, environmental racism against the PLFN, and relentless pillaging of our beleaguered forests.
Good to see some response on parliament hill to this great series. And a good moment to write to your MP or call them. Here’s the letter I just sent to mine.
Dear Chris D’Entremont,
As one of your constituents I am requesting that you support MP Charlie Angus’ motion in Parliament for an investigation into Paper Excellence and whether due diligence has been done before handing over control of 22 million hectares of Canada’s boreal forest to a company with opaque ownership, as well as links to Asia Pulp and Paper and their dreadful environmental record.
As a Nova Scotia MP, I hope you have been reading the ‘Deforestation Inc’ series from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and our own Joan Baxter. Paper Excellence’s outrageous behaviour as owners of Northern Pulp should be raising red flags for the rest of the country. They have declared bankruptcy in BC and are failing to pay back the $85 million dollars they owe Nova Scotia taxpayers, all the while continuing to harvest “their” fibre allocation AND suing us for $450 million. Oh, and failing to meet their pension obligations. This is not a company Canada should allow to accumulate ownership of so much forest land and so many mills. Someone was asleep at the wheel when they allowed Paper Excellence to acquire Domtar, and then allowed Domtar to acquire Resolute Forest Products.
So please, do your part to protect Canadian citizens and Canadian forests from outfits like Paper Excellence. We need to protect 30% of our lands and waters. We need to end the wholesale clearcutting of forests. We need a just transition for workers in the forestry industry. We need a livable planet. We do not need to allow the wholesale export of our forests to China.
I, for one, believe there should be an investigation — in fact, an investigation into Northern Pulp & Paper Excellence is long (long long long) overdue! The forest industry and politicians are playing some kind of crazy game with the forests of this country – selling our forests out for what????
Thanks for an inciteful series. Sounds like the information provided may have some impact at the political level.