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,"
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
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
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,"
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
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
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."
This article was published in
Number 27 - November 20, 2019
Reaction of Local Officials and Politicians