No taxpayer money paid to Sears Canada yet, says Opportunities NB CEO

The news Tuesday that Sears Canada has doubts about its ability to continue operating had many New Brunswickers wondering what will happen to the call centre jobs it promised to create in Edmundston and Saint John.

Hiring and training continues, but future of Sears call centres still unknown

Sears Canada said financial issues mean it may be forced to restructure or be put up for sale. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press) (Canadian Press file photo)

News of Sears Canada having doubts about its ability to continue operating, has many New Brunswickers wondering what will happen to the call centre jobs it promised to create in Edmundston and Saint John.

Earlier this year, the province committed  $8.6 million in financial assistance from New Brunswick taxpayers to Sears Canada by creating a call centre with 350 jobs in Saint John and a 180-job call centre in Edmundston. 

Stephen Lund , CEO with Opportunities New Brunswick, says no provincial money has been given to Sears Canada for the two call centres the government committed to help set up in Edmundston and Saint John. (CBC)
Of that money, $4 million was to be given up front, but Stephen Lund, CEO with Opportunities New Brunswick, says that money has not been advanced to Sears from the provincial government. 

"We have not provided any money to Sears at this point," he said. 

Despite the latest announcement, Lund said he's still comfortable with the province's investment in the company.

"We are creating new jobs, generating more jobs to pay for things like healthcare and education," he said on Information Morning Fredericton on Wednesday.

Lund said Opportunities New Brunswick has been working with Sears for quite a while and said they are monitoring the situation. 

"We go through lots of due diligence in every transaction and again, we structured a deal that we tried to reduce risk as much as possible," he said.

"We believed at the time the benefits outweighed the risk."

On track

Lund said the call centres are on track with hiring and training and have close to 300 people between the two centres.

"These are highly trained people in a growing industry," he said. "The industry itself continues to grow."

While he couldn't say if the two call centres would survive a realignment or sale of the company, Lund pointed out there would be a good trained workforce for  Sears or other companies. 

"We feel very confident that in a very worst-case scenario, that we'll be able to find an organization to come in and take over the workforce for that." 

If the company undergoes restructuring, he said Opportunities New Brunswick will be in talks about what the impact will look like for employees, the potential deal that's put in place and what restructuring will look like.

But Lund said he believes the company will still need a strong workforce if that does end up happening.

"We can't sit back and say, 'Oh my god, we're afraid that we might fail someday," he said.

"We need to take some risks … that's part of the business."   

Lund said he doesn't know when the province's money will be given to the company, as they have to meet the many terms and conditions put in place by government. 

"We've put lots of terms and conditions in to make sure we try and minimize the risk." 

Lund added it is too early to speculate on what will happen with the deal the province made with the company. 

"Would I like to see them in a different situation today? Yes, but it is what it is, we'll work with them," he said. "We're hopeful but yes, we would have done the same deal."    

With files from Harry Forestell, Information Morning Fredericton


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