Job losses in northern Manitoba could reach 1,500 in next 3 years: Briefing note

As many as 1,500 jobs in northern Manitoba could be lost over the next two or three years, according to an internal document sent to Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen in May.

As much as $100M in lost income projected in May 2017 note to Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister

Hundreds of workers in Manitoba's mining industry face layoffs. (CBC)

As many as 1,500 jobs in northern Manitoba could be lost over the next two or three years, according to an internal document sent to Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen in May.

The briefing note, dated May 10, 2017 and obtained by the New Democrats through a freedom-of-information request, projects the job losses could amount to as much as $100 million in lost income, with a loss to the regional economy of roughly $300 million.

The numbers were part of an advisory note to Pedersen ahead of the province's Look North initiative, announced in its throne speech in November 2016.

The task force, which is co-chaired by Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. and Christian Sinclair, an independent business adviser from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, presented its final report and action plan on Friday.

The report included a note that the region is in decline, but didn't mention the 1,500 jobs that could be lost.

NDP leader Wab Kinew called it "alarming" the number wasn't included in the task force's report, and said he wants to see the government take action to keep people working and improve internet access in the region.

"We're willing to work with the government on this issue, but I think it's important that we find a path forward here that will keep people across the north working. Again, reports don't put food on the table. Jobs do," Kinew said.

"There are specific things that the government can be doing in terms of perhaps financial incentives and perhaps working with Manitoba Hydro, in ensuring that there is the necessary business opportunity so that people can keep working across the north."

In May, mining giant Vale announced plans to close the Birchtree nickel mine in Thompson by the fall. The company also plans to close down its smelter and refining facilities in the city by mid-2018, affecting roughly 700 employees.

The rail line to Churchill has been out of service since severe flooding washed it out in several places in May.

'Long-term solutions' the priority: Premier

A spokesperson for the province said the report acknowledged job losses coming in the region, and specific numbers for communities are available on the province's website.

The recommendations in the report include the creation of a committee to set targets and establish "joint action groups" to work on six key areas of development, including mineral and other resource potential and strategic infrastructure investments. It called for investments in youth training and tourism, and improvements  to mining protocols.

Premier Brian Pallister didn't dispute the 1,500 figure, but said it's "old news" that job losses are coming to the area. He said the government is setting its sights on long-term improvements.

"I'm willing to commit to working very, very diligently to achieve long-term success. If we get success in the short-term that's good, but I'm not after short-term success at the expense of long-term success," Pallister said.​

"That's what the people in the communities are asking us. They're not looking for a flash-in-the-pan, short-term solution to their problems."

But Pallister acknowledged the province faces a short-term challenge in keeping skilled labourers in the region if jobs are lost before long-term projects create new ones.

"You recognize, of course, in every economy, that labour is mobile and you have to accept that. Labour and capital are mobile," he said. "We're looking to attract more people, not lose them. So we have a short-term challenge, clearly."