[CORNER BROOK, NL] — Premier Kathy Dunderdale is questioning the value of a presentation made Sunday evening by Humber MP Gerry Byrne concerning the viability of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.
“I think the timing is not good,” said the premier of the meeting. “We have been watching this plant in Corner Brook for over five years, and it hasn’t made money in a long time. Not only has it not made money in a long time, it’s lost tens of millions of dollars.”
Byrne made a presentation based on a report prepared for the Liberal MP by American company Fisher International that used a viability index to evaluate how the mill is doing and where improvements can be made.
Currently in negotiations
Kruger Inc., the mill’s owner, is currently negotiating with unions to reach a new collective agreement by June 15.
Dunderdale, who spoke with reporters Monday morning after she attended an event in St. John’s celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Daybreak Child Parent Centre, said much uncertainty surrounds the situation in Corner Brook.
“For Gerry Byrne, on very limited information, to wade into the middle of this debate, is unfortunate in my view. We’ll see what the consequences of it are in the long term.”
A reported 300 or more people attended Sunday’s meeting, held at the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook. According to an article published by The Western Star, the mill ranked first on the viability index on the manufacturing side compared with other mills in Canada. The labour cost was reported to be $120 per metric tonne of product.
Byrne said there are significant issues other than labour having an impact the mill’s viability, including the age of the facility.
Speaking with The Telegram on Monday, Byrne said the premier should embrace the report’s findings and be encouraged by workers’ receptiveness towards its content.
“What came out (of Sunday) for many (was) a sense of optimism and hope that a solution could indeed be found,” he said, adding the meeting may have increased people’s willingness to make concessions for the good of the mill.
“When their collective bargaining teams go to the table and look for a give-and-take settlement, they’ll be more likely to ratify it, and that I think is one of the things that came forward (Sunday), contrary to the attempted categorization that this was just playing into the hearts and minds of labour. Tough things were said.”
New analysis prompted meeting
Byrne added that data from the report was shared with Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy and Finance Minister Tom Marshall approximately eight weeks ago. Further analysis completed late last week prompted Byrne to hold Sunday’s meeting, which he said was scheduled prior to the announcement of the June 15 deadline for a new collective agreement.
Dunderdale said government has taken the time to verify Kruger’s account of the current situation facing the mill, noting Kruger has made substantial investments in its operations and has met the required labour commitments up until now.
“There’s a piece of work that the company needs to do with the union around pensions and around negotiations, because it has to have a sustainable plan on a go-forward basis. It’s not working, believe me. It is not working in its present format.”
She added if a new agreement can be made, government will discuss with Kruger ways it can help the situation.
Dunderdale recently had discussions with Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter concerning the NewPage Corp. paper mill in Cape Breton during last week’s Council of Atlantic Premiers meeting in Prince Edward Island.
“I talked with my counterpart in Nova Scotia, who is working very hard to keep the pulp and paper mill going in his province, where the government intervened, in fact, to try and prevent the closure, and it’s not experiencing a lot of success doing that.”
Dunderdale remains hopeful a deal can be reached by June 15, adding the timeline for the agreement has be necessitated by the bank and not by Kruger Inc.
“Bankruptcy is not too strong a word,” she said. “We’re in a very serious situation here, and the decisions that are taken over the next little while are going to have a significant impact on what happens in Corner Brook.”
Byrne said he believes it is possible new agreements can be reached, but said those agreements must accompany plans to modernize the mill.
“This mill can be viable into the long, long term.”