Premier questions timing of MP’s mill talk

Andrew Robinson
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Says Corner Brook Pulp and Paper not sustainable in present form

Premier Kathy Dunderdale speaks to reporters following an event Monday morning.— Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

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.”

Twitter: TeleAndrew

Organizations: Kruger Inc., Liberal MP, Fisher International NegotiationsKruger Daybreak Child Parent Centre Pepsi Centre NewPage Council of Atlantic Premiers

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Western Star, Canada Nova Scotia Cape Breton Prince Edward Island

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Recent comments

  • William Daniels
    June 12, 2012 - 20:26

    Wiiliams and Dunderdale have blown 40 + million in this mill since 2006 but that is only a drop in the bucket compared to what has already been blown on Muskrat Falls.

  • Cyril Rogers
    June 12, 2012 - 12:53

    Well stated, Maggy. The more information out there the better but, as we both know, this administration is all about secrecy. The new Access to Information is a classic example of their paranoia but also a worrisome feature of all of their decisions. Everything is done behind closed doors and for whose benefit? Surely, we the lowly shareholders of massive debts incurred by projects like Muskrat Falls deserve to have all of the information put before us! Oh, can't do that! We might actually see the light!

  • Frank M
    June 12, 2012 - 09:49

    If the future of the mill, or the future of the province in general, are in the hands of two fools like Dunderdale and Gerry Byrne we might as well scuttle the island now and get it over with.

  • pitiful
    June 12, 2012 - 08:59

    Honestly, isn't Thunderdale the worst Premier we have had in recent memory? Perhaps Beaton Tulk's little ride in the top seat was worse, but honestly. She's a terrible spokesperson for NL, and seems to be so gullable. Whatever Mr. Kruger told her seems to be gospel? It's time for the Liberals to start getting people ready to run next election or someone in the PC Party to rise to the forefront because it/she has to go. I find it hard to believe that in a have province of 500,000+ that this is the best we got. Sad really.

  • Maggy Carter
    June 12, 2012 - 08:20

    I am not a fan of Gerry Byrne, but then again I'm a fan of very few politicians. Like most successful politicians, he is a skilled self-promoter. That said, Byrne has every right - dare I say a duty - to bring to the public, the mill workers, the union and even to government any factual material and valid perspectives that help inform their decision making process. Workers have had to weigh the views of the company, government and their own union. The additional perspective supplied by Byrne was welcomed by the workers and should have been welcomed by the premier. By condemning Byrne and characterizing his involvement as somehow illicit, Dunderdale is herself being overtly political and disingenuous. She is unfortunately an adherent of old style politics - that's where those in power try to control the flow of information to achieve their political ends rather than allow an open and informed public debate based on unimpeded access to the relevant facts. These old-school tactics have been employed by the Dunderdale government to push other parts of its agenda - notably the development of Muskrat Falls. Worried that the existing legal rights of the public to access information might in some way undermine government's ability to get its own way, Dunderdale has brought in legislation that strips those rights away. When it comes to public policy debate, so little has changed since the old days when Smallwood insisted that the only facts the public should have were those he personally approved or in many cases manufactured.

  • Holden
    June 12, 2012 - 07:44

    Premier in name only. She doesn't work for this province.