Gerry Byrne says his sources are reliable, although two provincial cabinet ministers say the MP’s public statements regarding the loan offer extended to Corner Brook Pulp and Paper are ill-informed.
Liberal MP Gerry Byrne said the government has no intention of giving $110 million in funding to Corner Brook Pulp and Paper mill, but Finance Minister Tom Marshall says his comments are “ridiculous.” — TC Media file photo
Byrne, the Liberal MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, spoke about the $110 million in financial assistance the province is offering the paper company during his address to the Rotary Club of Corner Brook Thursday.
According to Byrne, the province has no intention of ever actually giving the money to the mill. He claims his sources — from within government circles — have told him the company has actually been trying to access the money since it agreed to new contracts with the last of its eight labour unions in October.
Signing new collective agreements was a stipulation government had placed on the company before the loan would be made available.
Byrne told Rotarians it is “dubious at best” to think the company has not already come looking for the money government has promised. Further, he charged the government is deliberately making it difficult for the company to get the money.
“I have heard from my own sources within the government that they have changed the terms of the deal,” Byrne said.
“The provincial government has now constantly come back and changed the terms of the deal because there appears there may not have been a generally widely held view that the unions would ever sign those collective agreements.
“I have heard that Corner Brook Pulp and Paper is anxiously wanting to draw down on these funds, but the problem rests in the Confederation Building.”
Byrne is fully supportive of Corner Brook Pulp and Paper receiving help from the province, but questioned whether the government actually is as supportive as it publicly says it is.
“The easiest cheque to write is the one you don’t think will be cashed,” said Byrne. “I can write a cheque today for $110 million and then start to assign conditions to it such that it will never get cashed.”
He called upon the provincial government to explain when and how the money will be spent and what the dividend will be.
“I know (the benefit) is there and I think most people in Corner Brook know it’s there, but until the provincial government does that, I think there is some question about whether or not they intend to do so,” said Byrne.
The MP also noted how the contacts signed by the mill’s labour unions are set to expire at the end of May 2014. If having labour agreements was a stipulation before the money would be given, Byrne wondered if the exact same situation will soon rear its head once again.
“Why are we five months away from having this whole situation repeat itself?” he asked.
Finance Minister Tom Marshall, who is the Tory MHA for Humber East, said Byrne’s comments were “ridiculous” and would like to know on what he is basing them.
“I don’t know where this is coming from and I would like to know who Gerry Byrne’s sources are,” said Marshall. “Obviously, I don’t think they are at the level where my sources are and (Byrne’s sources) are incorrect.”
Marshall said an announcement of the deal’s details almost took place before Christmas, but it had to be postponed. He agreed the negotiations have been complex with a lot of back and forth between all of those involved, but flatly denied any notion that government is balking at providing the company this money.
“Anyone who has said the company keeps coming to the government for money and the government says ‘no’ is absolutely incorrect,” said Marshall. “In fact, we’d be very anxious to have the company receive the funds.”
He added that $90 million will be included in this coming year’s budget and the remaining $20 million is in the provincial government’s fiscal forecast. Marshall noted the government has been roundly criticized, particularly by folks from outside the western region, for even contemplating the significant loan.
“And yet we have done it because we believe it is necessary to protect the forest industry and it’s necessary to protect a lot of people in the city of Corner Brook and a lot of other communities in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Marshall. “Why he would make a statement like that and not put out any evidence for it is beyond me.
“I will let the people judge who is telling the truth here.”
Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley also thought Byrne’s statements were ludicrous and not based in the reality of the situation. He expects the deal should be signed, sealed and delivered any day now.
Dalley said he has never been contacted by Byrne to discuss the situation with the mill or government’s priorities with the deal, which he said are focused on the employees, the province’s taxpayers, the west coast economy, the entire forestry industry and the viability of the mill to continue operating.
“Those statements by Mr. Byrne are totally uninformed and they are irresponsible because they are inciting fear and they are speaking to something which he has no information about,” said Dalley.
While he appreciates Byrne’s interest in the mill getting this money and how it will be spent, Dalley said it is more important, from government’s perspective, to ensure the agreement reached is the proper one.
“It will only be done when it’s right and not when it sits well with Gerry Byrne,” said Dalley.
During his address to Rotary, Byrne anticipated his controversial claims would get criticized, but said he would not back down from his comments.
The Western Star asked Kruger Inc., Corner Brook Pulp and Paper’s parent company, to comment on the situation regarding the government loan but he company declined to say anything.
The Western Star