Members of Parliament have voted to summon the owner of Canada’s largest wood pulp producer and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne to testify before the natural resources committee.
The motion, proposed by New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, was adopted Friday morning during a closed-door meeting of the committee. It calls for the committee to hold two meetings to look at the ownership structure in Canada’s pulp and paper industry and Paper Excellence, as well as the company’s business relations.
Among the prospective witnesses named in the motion is Paper Excellence CEO Jackson Wijaya, who has often remained out of the spotlight.
Angus said he is pushing for the hearings to be held as soon as possible. But with Parliament about to begin a two-week break, the committee hearings may not happen until after Parliament resumes sitting on April 17.
The motion comes following an investigation into Paper Excellence by CBC News in conjunction with other media outlets — part of a wider look at the global forestry industry under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
The investigation found that the people behind or associated with Paper Excellence appear to have a pattern of using thickets of corporations, including tax havens, effectively shielding transactions and assets from public and government scrutiny.
The company won’t open up about its past financing, some of which was facilitated at one point by a $1.25 billion US demand debenture with the China Development Bank. The bank is owned by the Chinese government.
CBC’s investigation also found leaked records and insider accounts that show that Paper Excellence, at least until a few years ago, appears to have been closely — and secretly — co-ordinating business and strategy decisions with Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the world’s biggest pulp-and-paper players. Environmental groups have claimed Asia Pulp & Paper has a track record of environmental destruction.
The company maintains that Paper Excellence is completely independent from Asia Pulp & Paper and is owned solely by Jackson Wijaya, who is a member of the family that owns Asia Pulp & Paper and Indonesian giant Sinar Mas.
With its recent acquisition of Resolute Forest Products, Paper Excellence is now Canada’s largest producer of wood pulp and manages nearly 22 million hectares of Canadian forests.
The committee’s decision to hold hearings into Paper Excellence comes only days after the company registered two additional representatives to lobby on its behalf.
On March 27, a few days after Angus served notice on March 21 of his plans to introduce a motion calling for hearings, James Maunder and Stephen Yardy of PAA Advisory registered to lobby 13 government organizations on the company’s behalf to “facilitate discussions between Paper Excellence Canada and the federal government related to the company’s activities in Canada.”
Maunder served in the past as an aide to former Conservative cabinet minister James Moore, while Yardy has worked in the past for a number of NDP MPs. They join other PAA Advisory staff already registered to lobby on behalf of the company, including a former Liberal staffer.
Among the government officials and entities they registered to lobby are members of Parliament, the Senate, the industry department, the Competition Bureau and the Prime Minister’s Office.
The company has said in the past that it would appear should the committee call it to testify.
“If invited, Paper Excellence welcomes the opportunity to answer questions from the committee about its commitment to creating jobs and growing Canada’s forestry sector, maintaining a positive working relationship with government at all levels across the country,” the company said in a statement on March 22.
It has not yet responded to questions from CBC about whether Wijaya himself will testify.
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at email@example.com