HALIFAX, N.S. —
Northern Pulp and Unifor, the national union that represents 240 of its Pictou County mill workers, voiced deep disappointment with Premier Stephen McNeil’s decision not to extend the Boat Harbour closure deadline.
“Today is a very tough day for those of us at Northern Pulp,” Brian Baarda, chief executive of Paper Excellence Canada, Northern Pulp’s parent company, said at a late-morning news conference Friday at a downtown Halifax hotel.
He said the company would start implementing plans Friday to close the Abercrombie Point mill.
“This decision ensures the closure of Northern Pulp, the devastation of Nova Scotia’s forest industry, the loss of 2,700 rural jobs and a significant impact to another 8,300 forestry jobs across Nova Scotia,” Baarda said.
The premier made the government’s position clear at an earlier news conference.
“There will be no extension,” MacNeil said.
“The company has had five years to get out of Boat Harbour and it is not even close, now it’s decision time.”
Baarda said the company will meet with government early in the new year to talk about what the plant closure will look like. During that conversation, the concept of idling the mill will likely come up, Baarda said, “but we don’t believe that it is possible without continuing to use Boat Harbour.”
‘Five days before Christmas’
“Our thoughts are with our employees, five days before Christmas, we’re going to focus on that,” Baarda said when asked if the company would pursue a lost-earnings claim against the government.
“At this time, for our workforce, we are offering on-site support and counselling to our employees and their families through our employee assistance program,” Baarda said. “Today, we will start the process of delivering layoff and contract-cancellation notices and start implementing plans to close Northern Pulp.”
Baarda cut questions short at the news conference because he was heading to the mill to meet with employees.
Baarda said Northern Pulp had put together an excellent plan based on sound science that showed no meaningful environmental impact from the proposed effluent treatment plant, a plan that represented operational improvement and insured that thousands of forestry workers could remain a vital part of the Nova Scotia economy.
“It also enabled timely closure and remediation of Boat Harbour,” Baarda said. “The premier chose to disregard those facts.”
Baarda blamed the company’s delay in getting its replacement effluent treatment facility plans together on the government.
“It is apparent that Nova Scotia Environment has been unable to provide a definitive process over the last four-and-half years. We have continued to respond to each and every additional request for further science. Our initial investigatory work changed dramatically from seven reports to 68 current individual areas of study. Had Nova Scotia Environment wanted a full environmental assessment from the outset, we would have been prepared to deliver it.”
Baarda said he has great respect for the professionalism and dignity shown by the mill’s workforce throughout the ordeal.
“The people at Northern Pulp have continued to remain focused on the things that matter, delivering on the best safety performance in Paper Excellence, meeting production targets while continuing to protect the environment.”
‘He just decimated rural Nova Scotia’
Linda MacNeil, director of Unifor Atlantic, said it is a sad day for the mill employees and all forestry sector workers in the province.
MacNeil said the premier’s announced $50-million transition fund is not a consolation.
“Let’s put that in perspective,” an angry MacNeil said. “The mill in an annual salary pays out $40 million for 300 employees, $40 million a year. The transition fund, $50 million. That doesn’t include the rest of the forestry sector that is going to be impacted by this irresponsible decision.
“That transition money is basically going to buy bus tickets for employees at the mill to move to another province because, guess what, obviously the premier doesn’t respect those employees or anything to do with rural Nova Scotia because he just decimated rural Nova Scotia.
“If that is the legacy that he wants, he is certainly going to get it.”
MacNeil also took the premier to task for laying blame on the company for not getting its new wastewater treatment facility approved and built in the five years since the Boat Harbour closure was announced.
“The Nova Scotia environment minister and the department have to take some responsibility because there was no clear path going forward,” MacNeil said. “If there had been, it would have been willingly done, that I can ensure, from the company.”
MacNeil said the government decision will not serve the province well in the long term.
“What company is going to look to invest as they see this unfold. Disappointment does not do this justice. Anger, sad, heart-broken and five days before Christmas …”
Baarda offered no comment on the premier’s claim that the company will be on the hook for the $85 million in outstanding loans it owes the province. The Chronicle Herald reported last month that Northern Pulp and an associated company owe the province $85,478,537 in three outstanding loans.
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