Columns and Letters

Column: The closure of Northern Pulp

-by John Gillis

    Premier Stephen McNeil noted in his year end remarks that upholding the deadline to end the spillage of effluent into Boat Harbour was one of the most difficult decisions his government has had to make.
    That it came just days before Christmas, probably didn’t make it any easier.
    But what was the premier to do?

    He had given the company ample opportunity to come up with a plan for the effluent treatment that would be acceptable to the Province of Nova Scotia, but that did not come to be. He had also made a promise to Chief Andrea Paul and the people of the Pictou Landing First Nation, people who have suffered much due to environmental damage caused over the five decades of operation of the mill; people who have experienced so many broken promises.
    Fishermen and residents of the Pictou Landing First Nations were among the growing contingent of Nova Scotians who said ‘no pipe’ was acceptable into the Northumberland Strait.
    When faced with the premier’s answer, Northern Pulp’s response was firm and decisive - “no pipe, no mill,” something they’ve been saying all along.
    Hundreds of workers will be impacted by the closure and several hundreds more will be impacted by the economic fallout of such a closure.
    Over the course of the coming months, given the impact of this development of the economy and social fabric of Nova Scotia, The Oran plans to present a series of articles from various points of view and perspectives on the matter – this column being the first.
    This week Premier McNeil announced a transition team to address some of the most pressing impacts of these decisions and he has tasked the transition team with three key priorities:  
– Advise on short-term interventions that can have the most effective impact for affected workers and businesses throughout the forestry sector.
– Advise on potential areas of investment related to the $50 million transition fund.
– Identify longer-term and innovative approaches for the forestry industry in Nova Scotia while ensuring an ecologically sustainable and globally competitive forestry sector for the province.
    I spoke to a former long-term employee of the Northern Pulp plant this week. George Goodall of Little Mabou Road worked 35 years at the mill under various owners.
    Goodall has been retired about 10 years now, but he stays in touch with many of his former co-workers and he is monitoring the situation there closely.
    Last month, Goodall was among the many citizens who attended a rally in Halifax to urge the premier to extend the deadline for Boat Harbour. The rally was held at Province House and transport trucks, many employed with mill activities, lined the highway to Halifax as well to draw attention to the closure.
    Goodall said he boarded a coach bus in Pictou to attend the Halifax rally and said there were several more busses that were filled along the way to Halifax.
    Goodall says many of the retired workers, too, will be impacted by the closure of the mill and they have concerns about their pensions.
    “We expect to be meeting with Unifor, the union that represents the workers, and we’ll hopefully get more information on the status of our pensions.  I’ve been told that the underfunded liability has been caught up in recent years to about 90 per cent.  If that’s true, that is a relief, but we’d like to know more,” he told me Sunday.
    Goodall said returning home on the bus he looked around and what he saw were a lot of young workers, people who “reminded me of myself 40 or so years ago when I was a young man with a secure job, a mortgage, a car payment, and a family to raise.”
    “I was very fortunate at the time to get a good opportunity and I made the most of it. I didn’t have a grade 12 education when I started at the mill, but I got my GED and they helped me with four years of education at Cape Breton University and I obtained my millwrights’ training. I wore many hats during my 35 years at the mill and I advanced.  I became a crane operator as well. It was a time, when we worked for Scott Paper, when they referred to the Scott employees as ‘the Scott family,’ and the company took good care of you. They looked out for you and provided great opportunities. We don’t see many jobs like that today with so much uncertainty. I feel for these workers who will have to find something new,” said Goodall. Goodall says he will be monitoring closely what happens with the mill.
    “There are many rumours going many, and you don’t know whether you can believe them or not. I’m hoping to learn more with an upcoming meeting called by Unifor and I’m curious to see what comes out of the transition team and whether there will be any interest expressed in the mill and whether we’ll see it go into a possible ‘hot idle’ situation like what happened with the Point Tupper mill nine years ago.  We’ll just have to wait and went on when I worked at the mill, life went on when I retired, and life will go on whatever happens,” Goodall concluded.






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