Gilles Forget is fearful about what the forestry crisis will do to his town.

The mayor of Iroquois Falls, located northeast of Timmins, said there used to be 1,000 people working in the forestry industry. “Now we have 350,” he said.

When there are no jobs, people move away, he said. “If you kill the industry, you kill the town.

“And it’s not just the towns that are affected, but the entire region.”

Thousands of forestry workers and their supporters from across Canada gathered here yesterday to march from the Minister of Natural Resources’ office to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Forestry workers held the rally demanding a meeting with the prime minister to discuss solutions to the forestry crisis, including protection of workers’ pensions and a plan to keep viable mills operating through federal government loan guarantees and other measures.

“We want to wake up Stephen Harper,” said Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) president Dave Coles. “Our main demand has always been for the federal government to backstop loans so that viable companies can keep operating, saving jobs and communities. We are not asking for a bailout.”

Forget said the U.S. government is supporting its forestry industries, which will likely come out stronger if Canada doesn’t offer support.

Saunders Deneault, a vice-president with Local 90 representing maintenance workers and production at the mill in Iroquois Falls, put it more bluntly.

“If something isn’t done, by the end of this year, we won’t have mills in Canada,” he said.

A retired forestry worker in Niagara, Ron Hartle said he attended the rally to support all the people whose jobs are at stake. “We’ve lost 55,000 jobs in the forestry industry in the last 10 years,” said Hartle.

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