Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy speaks with reporters Friday to criticize Liberal MP Gerry Byrne for an ad Byrne inserted in The Telegram’s sister paper, The Western Star. The ad announces a public meeting to give what Byrne calls “the real story” on the Corner Brook pulp and paper mill. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy said Friday Corner Brook Pulp and Paper is on the verge of bankruptcy and Liberal MP Gerry Byrne is making a bad situation worse.
Byrne plans to hold a public meeting in Corner Brook Sunday to address the situation at the troubled paper mill.
Kennedy said holding the meeting is “irresponsible” and would just “inflame” an already precarious situation.
But Byrne was quick to fire back, saying he just wants to talk about the facts of the situation.
“There’s no opinions to be expressed here. This is factual information,” Byrne said. “If good, third-party, independent information is dangerous, then it sounds like someone trying to be railroaded into making a deal which the facts don’t support.”
The Corner Brook paper mill has been on shaky ground since the beginning of the year. The company says it’s suffering from high labour costs and crushing pension obligations.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale said she has agreed on a “framework” with the mill’s parent company, Kruger Inc. to support future operations.
However, before the province steps in, Dunderdale has said the unions, pensioners and company have to come to agreements on how to restructure things so the mill can operate on a more stable footing.
Kruger has said if they can’t reach a deal by June 15, it will close the mill.
Friday afternoon, Kennedy called media to Confederation Building to say Byrne’s weekend plans for a public meeting are making a tense situation worse.
“I don’t feel it’s appropriate for anyone to be inflaming this present situation,” Kennedy said. “This situation affects the families, the workers, in general the members of the Corner Brook community and the forest industry in this province as a whole.”
Byrne brushed the attack off, saying Kennedy is doing more than anyone to add to the tension.
“Kennedy keeps on making the statement, ‘I have grave, grave concerns about the future of this mill.’ He’s given about seven press conferences where he’s invoked dire concerns about the mill unless labour concessions are assented to,” Byrne said. “Perhaps Mr. Kennedy should follow his own advice.”
But Friday, Kennedy said he’s intimately aware of how bad the situation is.
Kennedy said Corner Brook Pulp and Paper has an $80-million unfunded pension liability, and other substantial debts.
“Corner Brook Pulp and Paper is on the verge of bankruptcy,” he said. “The liabilities are enormous.”
Kennedy said if the company slides into bankruptcy, pensioners might be one of the biggest losers, since the pension fund is an unsecured creditor.
Byrne said he doesn’t believe things are as grim as that.
“What I think people will come to understand is that there’s a real solid case, an argument to be made that cooler heads should prevail, and that arbitrary deadline should be lifted,” Kennedy said.
Sunday’s meeting will involve a presentation of information from a report by Fisher International, a U.S.-based company.
Fisher looked at the efficiency and cost characteristics of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper and also analyzed the entire newsprint industry of North America and compared Corner Brook to every one of its competitors.
The Fisher report was originally done in February, but Byrne said the presentation will also involve some information that has been provided to him in the last few days.