Ag Minister Jeff Leal tours Bonduelle fire scene

Ontario's Minister of Agriculture Jeff Leal was in Tecumseh Tuesday to address the massive fire that ravaged the Bonduelle food processing plant in the town.

Bonduelle to ensure full-time employees get 95% of wage while out of work as plant is rebuilt

Ontario Minister of Agriculture Jeff Leal will meet with Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara and speak with media at Tecumseh Town Hall. (Province of Ontario)

Ontario's Minister of Agriculture Jeff Leal was in Tecumseh Tuesday to address the massive fire that ravaged the Bonduelle food processing plant in the town. 

Leal toured the former Green Giant plant that sustained heavy damage, which company officials estimated to between $40 million to $50 million. 

"I am very encouraged by their commitment to rebuild and renew their operation here in Tecumseh," said Leal at a press conference at the Tecumseh Town Hall. 

"We're here today to be a partner in the process of rebuilding and recovering because we know the great importance of this company has in this community, right through Ontario and indeed throughout Canada." 

Despite the province's pledge to help restore the plant, Leal did not mention anything specific about funding. 

Leal said the province has not received a formal request from Bonduelle for money, but mentioned that the company is fully covered by insurance. He also said the company has received grants from the province in the past to improve their productivity and marketing opportunities. 

"I'm not here for a photo-op I'm here to be on the ground to be a partner in therms of the rebuilding and the recovering because of the significance that this operation has to Ontario's Ag Sector."

Leal says staff from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural affairs at on the ground to make sure the rebuilding process goes smoothly. 

Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara told CBC News first that Leal will tour the former Green Giant plant that sustained heavy damage.

McNamara said he has spoken with Premier Kathleen Wynne about providing Bonduelle funds to rebuild. He said Wynne assured him the province would help.

According to McNamara, the premier said the province needs "to make sure that whatever aid that Bonduelle and the community needs, we're there for you."

Employees to be compensated

Meanwhile, Bonduelle will top up the pay of full-time employees out of work  due to the massive fire at the company's Tecumseh plant.

"They'll be going on a short-term layoff notice and they'll be applying for [employment insurance] benefits, but we'll be topping that up so the full-time employees will be topped up to 95 per cent of their regular earnings," vice president of operations Robert Anderson said.

Bonduelle employs 200 people full time in Tecumseh. It has approximately 400 seasonal workers as well.

Company officials met with full-time employees Monday. They will meet with seasonal workers Tuesday at 2 p.m.

"All I want to know is if I'm going to have a job. Are we going back to work? That's all  I want to know," said Karen Cunning, a 10-year seasonal employee.

Anderson admits the process dealing with seasonal employees is a little more complicated. Many of the logistics still need to be worked out. Bonduelle is without a frozen warehouse. That fact could also impact farmers.

A fire that broke out Friday at 2 a.m. destroyed the frozen food warehouse and the dry goods storage area, causing about $50 million in damages.

Farmers encouraged

Farmer Dave Epp says the fire was disconcerting but that he is encouraged by everything he's heard directly from the company.

Epp has supplied green beans, green peas and sweet corn to Bonduelle over the last 20 years.

"They are taking care of, and have every intention of taking care of, their own employees, as well as the producers that are under contract for them," Epp said.

Anderson says Bonduelle is doing its best to use the crops its contracted for.

"We're moving peas, for example, that were slated for Tecumseh to our Strathroy and Ingersoll facilities and starting [Monday] evening, we're shipping green beans, raw green beans to one of our facilities in New York state," Anderson said.


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