Reaction of Local Officials and Politicians

Locked-out Belledune smelter workers maintain picket lines November 16, 2019, after plant closure announced.

Belledune Mayor Joe Noel described the closure as "quite a blow," not only to the village, but the entire region because the smelter is one of the biggest employers and provides work to many contractors. "If the employees can't find trades work in the area and can't be retrained, they're going to leave," he said. "We're struggling to try and get our population up now. So this is definitely not going to help that. We don't want anyone to say goodbye to New Brunswick [...] and we will continue to work to make sure that we move that region forward," he said.

Noel said his priority is to ensure that the employees are given a proper severance, that their pensions are looked after and that those who were close to retirement get the opportunity to retire "with a good pension, like they expected to."

Noel said the town will lose about $800,000 in tax revenue, or 16 per cent of its total budget, when the smelter closes, adding he's not sure how the area will make up the loss. "That's not something you can do on the turn of a dime. That's going to take some time and some planning," he said. Noel said the region needs to take advantage of its natural resources. "I think we have to do everything we can to use them to the best of our ability and make them profitable," he said.

The problem facing the mayor and the entire region is who reaps the profits of ventures such as Glencore's or any other. The local economy needs the profits from the added-value workers produce to be reinvested in the local economy, community and nation-building not torn away as the international financial oligarchy does when it seizes the added-value as enterprise profit, interest profit and rent profit.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs called an emergency meeting with Glencore Canada on the evening of November 13 after the company announced earlier in the day that it was closing its lead smelter.

Trevor Holder, the Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour attended the meeting and told Information Morning Fredericton, "It is very clear coming out of that meeting that they [Glencore] are leaving. There is no way to change their mind. There are some people that we may need to retrain, if that's possible. There are some folks that may be able to transition into other opportunities."

Holder said a timeline hasn't been established yet, but the appropriate groups and departments will be meeting in the next few weeks to discuss solutions. "I think what's important right now is that we move forward as a province and we work with the community up there," he said.

Bathurst Mayor Paolo Fongemie told Radio-Canada that the Belledune Smelter was a big client of NB Power and a great contributor of property tax, so everybody in the province loses with the closure. He wants the province to develop an economic strategy for the northern region. He called on the provincial government to immediately establish a labour force adjustment committee for the 420 Brunswick Smelter employees who will soon be out of work.

Fongemie said northern New Brunswick used to be a "strong industrial region," but with the impending smelter closure, the government is now one of its biggest employers through hospitals, Service Canada and the community college. He reminded everyone that the smelter marks the third major plant closure in the Chaleur region in the past 15 years, resulting in a total loss of roughly 2,000 well-paying trades jobs. "We were able to manage to overcome the first two" said Fongemie, referring to the Bathurst mill shutdown in 2005 and the Brunswick Mine being shuttered in 2013. "We will overcome this one also because that's who we are [in] the northern part of the province. You know, we just pull up our sleeves and we work hard together and resiliency is part of [our] DNA, but it's still frustrating."

The closure of the Belledune smelter, which opened in 1966, will not only affect the 420 smelter employees and their families. It will cause widespread "collateral damage" in the town, Fongemie said. Many contractors and truck drivers rely on the plant for business and the Trevali mine sells its ore to Glencore for the smelter. Other area businesses benefit from the spin-off effect of having those workers spend their wages in the region.

Denis Caron, the CEO of the Port of Belledune said the port was built for the smelter in 1968. He said he is "overwhelmed" by news of the impending closure. Caron had been "hopeful" the smelter would keep producing, given Glencore's recent investments in the plant. The company spent about $20 million on the first phase of an estimated $64 million acid plant upgrade. "I thought perhaps that there could be maybe a temporary closure but we certainly weren't expecting this," said Caron. The province has promised the Port of Belledune $7 million to help with expansion plans as it continues to grow but the closure of the smelter will reduce business by at least 10 per cent with a loss of $1 million in annual income. He said only two other clients use the port. About 24 different bulk products from around the world were shipped through the port last year, totalling about three million tonnes but that included the smelter business. He said he is hopeful some of the smelter warehouses can be saved and used in conjunction with the port. "I mean, it [the smelter] is very close to the port. And you know I think there's going to be some opportunities [...] I think that that has to be explored, definitely."

(With files from CBC News, Shift, Radio-Canada, Information Morning Fredericton, and Wikipedia. Photos: Metallos)

This article was published in

Number 27 - November 20, 2019

Article Link:
Reaction of Local Officials and Politicians


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