OTTAWA – A special session of the House of Commons Industry Committee met today to deal with the recent closure of two Abitibi-Bowater plants in Quebec. While the hearings were confined to the subject of these specific closures, the implications could rumble throughout the larger economy, especially in areas that rely on the forestry sector or are reeling from job losses of their own.

The closures in the Lac Saint-Jean region and Gatineau have thrown 570 full-time workers out of work and the company is refusing to pay severance and there are questions about how much, if any, pensions the workers will receive. The company has entered bankruptcy protection and there are fears that the workers will be at the end of the line when they emerge from that protection next month.

“We have to remember this is the same company that is bragging to its shareholders that they will make $1.5 billion in profits over the next four years,” said Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing. “For the workers to be told there is no money for them, and then to hear that kind of forecast is the height of hypocrisy.”

The investigation by the committee is seen as little more than window dressing by forestry workers who had been promised a forestry summit to discuss issues affecting that beleaguered sector by the Conservatives during the 2008 election. Almost two full years later, the only change has been a steady stream of closures and layoffs.

“They made great promises but they won’t act on them,” said Hughes, whose own constituency is reliant on a vibrant forestry sector. “They pay up to protect investors, but they won’t protect workers, not even once.”

Hughes was referring to a recent NAFTA settlement that saw Abitibi-Bowater receive a $130 million settlement from the Conservative government stemming from Newfoundland’s seizure of Abitibi-Bowater’s forestry and water rights after the company abandoned operations in Grand Falls in 2008. What galls many is the fact the government did not even attempt to defend Newfoundland’s decision at the NAFTA tribunal.

“We are trying to talk about livelihoods lost, communities shattered, and people thrown under the bus by companies that are offshore entities in name only,” said Hughes. “The government isn’t worried about people’s financial security, and that is just appalling.”