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Friday, July 29, 2005

For Sale: The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador?

For Sale: One Canadian Province, going cheap. Spacious, pristine and hardly used by owner. Please contact the government of Newfoundland and Labrador for more information.

I personally don’t recall ever seeing this ad appear in the classifieds, but apparently it must have. Why else would so many major corporations think they can walk away with the province’s lands, forests, fish, minerals, oil and waters?

Over the past 50+ years countless instances of plundering and attempted resource raping have taken place in the province.

There was the infamous giveaway of Churchill Falls, a recent plan to build a pipeline from an iron ore discovery in Labrador to a processing plant in Quebec and even the theft of fish quotas by Fishery Products International in Harbour Breton. It seems like these companies feel the province is nothing more than a giant bargain basement where everything must go, go, go!

One of the worst examples of this type of mentality took place just this week in the case of Abitibi Consolidated and its demands on the province and people.

Abitibi, one of the world’s largest newsprint manufacturers has been logging and milling paper in Newfoundland and Labrador for decades. This effort has provided thousands of jobs over that time and communities have grown up around the company’s mills. Now, even though they have been given millions in benefits from the province over the years and have had generous access to forest resources, they have decided to make a grab for the entire province.

Recently Abitibi informed the government and the public of plans to shut down their mill in Stephenville and one of two paper machines in Grand Falls-Windsor, putting hundreds of people out of work and devastating a dozen or more communities dependent on mill and logging employment.

The only thing the government has to do to avoid such a catastrophe is to build power generating plants, which would be owned by Abitibi (at an estimated tax payer expense of $300+ million), and give the company (free of charge) first rights to every single stick of wood in both Labrador and the island of Newfoundland. Simple really and what a bargain.

It’s hard to understand why the current government wouldn’t jump at the offer. After all, it would save those jobs and the only cost would be about 10 to 15 percent of the money the province picked up from the Atlantic Accord re-negotiations, giving Abitibi control of the second largest power source on the island even if they shut down both mills in the future.

Of course it would also mean that Abitibi, in essence, would own every birch, spruce, fir, pine and apple tree in the province, but who needs them. Don’t they just serve as breeding grounds for black flies and a hiding place for pesky beavers and moose anyway?

It’s really amazing the gall some of these companies, but what is even more depressing and disheartening than this type of corporate mentality is the tendency of governments in the province to buckle under to such demands.

As of the time this article is being written, the provincial government has said they will not get into this type of deal with the company. I applaud them for that, but I also wonder. As we all know, governments have a way of saying one thing and doing something completely different.

If no deal is made, the Stephenville mill will almost assuredly be shut down. The province does hold one ace up its sleeve when it comes to the Grand Falls-Windsor mill however.

Currently legislation exists that would strip abitibi of most of its timber licences in the province should they fail to maintain a two machine operation in Grand Falls-Windsor. Provincial leaders have vowed to hold the company’s feet to the fire on this one, but will they?

When Fishery Products International requested changes to the FPI Act there was a furor and politicians lined up to go to battle. FPI wanted government to make changes to legislation allowing them to sell off a part of its marketing division. In the end, in one of the oddest votes ever seen in the Newfoundland and Labrador Legislature, the act was changed and FPI got exactly what they wanted. It makes one wonder what will happen this time.

All indications are that the people of the province and even the hard working people most affected by this move, the mill workers and loggers, are fully in support of telling Abitibi exactly where to go. They would rather see both mills shut down than submit to this type of blackmail.

I don’t believe any government could hope for a stronger mandate than to have the union representing mill workers telling them to let the company shut down if that’s what it takes. Hopefully this endorsement will have the desired effect and officials will take the high road rather than giving away the shop.

Years ago the owners of a similar mill in Corner Brooke closed up shop and moved on. It didn’t take long for another company to see the benefit of the operations and to move in. Currently this mill is thriving. There is no reason the same shouldn’t happen again.

The current mills in the province produce one of the cheapest selling forest products in the world rather than high end products like building materials. For heaven’s sake, even the toilet paper used in the province must be imported.

It’s time the province waved goodbye to poor corporate citizens like Abitibi that have been the mainstay of the economy and said hello to those who would see new and innovative products produced for the benefit of themselves and the people in the area.

Let’s all hope our leaders stick to their guns and tell the blood sucking vultures running this company that they will not have publicly funded hydro projects given to them carte blanche and they do not and will never own the provincial forests. Let them know that the people of the province can live without them and oh, bye the way, don’t let the door knob hit you in the butt on the way out.


Anonymous said...

Crazy American here again.

Abitibi wants the province to build them their own electical plant eh? What about this news release from 2001


Which is even more interesting because it looks like the name was unintentionally dead on accurate, that is "Exploits River Hydro Partnership Project "

Talk about exploitation? They already own just under half of the plant expansion, which gave them rates which they already control. Then between themselves and Fortis which through a series of wholly held subsidiaries *read paper companies * it looks like they control just about the entire hydro electric capacity of the province.. or did I miss something?

I don't know what you Canadians call this,,, but down here... we call it a trust.

Sound like what abitibi is doing is trying to get the entire forestry of the province. The electic capacity issue is just a way of diverting attention from the real issue.

Out of curiousity, has anyone really tracked through the interlocking arrangements between the various power companies and Abitibi? because the more I look the more connections I see. Or is that just my naivete?

Enough of my rant.. I'm going back to figuring out how I can get from to Happy Valley Goose Bay in a Minicooper next year. Can you say I'm not afraid of rocks, rujts and washouts? :):)

Sarah Telford said...

I have been home this past month and have been shocked at what is going on. Why is this not mentioned more in the world news also.

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daniel. said...

I have been working with abitibi for 18 yrs.I hope this gov't tells this blood sucking company where to go, far as i am concerned all they want to do is steal our resources and walk away.I would rather have to pack up leave,than see this company steal what is left of our resource.I appauld this gov't for standing up for the people rather than these blood suckers.They don't care about the common folk,they only care about profit and not our kids.