Manitoba closing, selling provincially run tree nursery

The Progressive Conservative government is shutting down operations at a 65-year-old provincially-run tree nursery it says is losing money — but the province's largest union says that's a mistake.

Province will purchase future seedlings from private nurseries, Sustainable Development spokesperson says

Pineland Forest Nursery has been operating near Hadashville, Man., since 1953. (Google Earth)

The Progressive Conservative government is shutting down operations at a 65-year-old provincially run tree nursery it says is losing money — but the province's largest union says that's a mistake.

Pineland Forest Nursery near Hadashville, Man., has been growing seedlings for the province for reforestation since 1953, according to its website.

On Thursday, the province announced it will end operations at the site by Dec. 31, and seek out a buyer to take it over.

Going forward, future seedlings will be purchased through a tender process with private nurseries, a spokesperson for Manitoba Sustainable Development told CBC News in an email.

The closure will put eight full-time and 17 part-time staff out of work, plus seasonal workers, the province said in a release on Thursday. It says it will work with employees during the "transition period," and full-time staff are eligible for other jobs in the civil service.

The province says the nursery isn't sustainable. According to the release, it's been losing money for years.

"Pineland Forest Nursery has recorded substantial operating losses over a number of years and the provincially operated model, as it currently exists, is not sustainable," the release states.

A provincial spokesperson said she couldn't provide details about how big those losses were, or how much the province expects to save by selling the site off.

'Midnight madness blowout'

"The province is seeking to maximize the value of this asset through the upcoming RFP. Therefore any information that could be considered commercially sensitive or provide a competitive advantage cannot be provided outside of the RFP process," she wrote in an email.

A request for proposals for a buyer for the 67 greenhouses and more than 300 acres of growing area will be posted on May 15, the province said.

The closure is part of an ongoing value-for-money review across the provincial government.

In the release, Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen says potential Pineland buyers have "many options and opportunities."

"The RFP is expected to generate significant interest, with opportunities for new and creative ventures in areas such as agriculture, horticulture or even cannabis production," the release says.

Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen says potential Pineland buyers have 'many options and opportunities.' (CBC News)

But Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, said she's not convinced the site is really losing money, and she doesn't think buying seedlings privately will be cheaper.

"It's a bad deal for the taxpayers," she said.

The MGEU represents roughly 40,000 workers in the province.

Gawronsky said she was blindsided by the closure and the Thursday news release.

"It read like a flyer for a midnight madness blowout liquidation sale," she said.

"The minister's touting great opportunity, incredible assets, strong local workforce, and yet declaring everything must go by New Year's Eve."

The provincial spokesperson said the New Year's Eve deadline is for when operations will wind down, not when the province wants to find a buyer.

Gawronsky said Manitobans are proud of their forests and Pineland helped bolster them.

​"I don't understand how this minister, this government would put such a valuable, cutting-edge environmental asset on the chopping block," she said.

"He should be acting as a steward of our public assets and our forests, not like an auctioneer."