Manitoba

Manitoba can't do much to save Tolko mill in The Pas, premier says

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says there's not much his government can do to help the 332 people who will lose their jobs when Tolko Industries shuts down its mill in The Pas at the end of this year.

Brian Pallister says supports had been offered to Tolko 'recently and in previous years'

Tolko Industries announced on Monday that it's shutting down its operations in The Pas, Man., with 332 employees to be laid off on Dec. 2. (CBC)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says there's not much his government can do to help the 332 people who will lose their jobs when Tolko Industries shuts down its paper mill in The Pas at the end of this year.

The province has had discussions with Tolko officials, but ultimately it's up to the company to make its own decisions, Pallister said Wednesday.

"Certainly we made every effort to have dialogue with the people at Tolko and to do what we could to assist them and their decisions. But their decision ultimately is as was announced, so we have to accept that. It's their company, after all," he said.

Pallister wouldn't give details about the government's talks with Tolko or what kind of support was offered.

"There have been supports offered to Tolko recently and in previous years and clearly weren't deemed to be, I suppose, in and of themselves enough to convince the company that they should continue to lose money in that operation," he said.

Tolko, the largest employer in The Pas, announced on Monday that operations will cease at its forestry products mill in the town on Dec. 2 and all 332 employees will be laid off.

The announcement came as a shock to people in the northern town of about 5,500. It also came shortly after Omnitrax announced it's cutting freight service in half on the Hudson Bay Railway and closing the Port of Churchill.

The Vernon, B.C.-based company said it has tried for 19 years to improve the cost structure of its Manitoba operations but in the end, the mill is "not financially sustainable."

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks to reporters about Tolko Industries' decision to shut down its sawmill in The Pas, Man., in December. 0:58

'Not a happy day'

On Wednesday, Pallister said even the union officials who represent many of the workers have acknowledged that it's a tough industry.

"It's a company that's been losing money and [has] been losing money for a while and so sadly, this is the result," he said of Tolko.

"It's not a happy day for the people in The Pas, obviously, and we'll do everything we can to mitigate and work with not only that community, but other communities across the north to look for real, sustainable job opportunities for people going forward."

Pallister said there will be no additional financial support offered to the affected workers at this time, as there are social assistance programs already in place to help them.

The premier added that his government has been meeting with northern leaders and community members as it develops a strategy aimed at bringing and keeping more business opportunities in the region.

"We have a plan which we'll be unveiling — which is getting refined right now — in terms of an economic strategy for the north," Pallister said. 

"But all of that is mid-term, long-term stuff, and it doesn't help the short-term feelings of people who have lost their jobs."

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