Laid-off Brunswick Smelter workers out in droves for job fair
Companies keen to fill labour gaps, but many are out of province
Paul Landry was heartbroken when news came last month the Brunswick Smelter in Belledune is closing.
He had been working there for two years since coming home from the West. Landry found employment in Alberta after the mill Dalhousie closed, and he stayed there eight years.
Now Landry is again faced with the prospect of leaving behind his home and family, including his 91-year-old mother, to find a good job.
"We're getting used to that around here," he told CBC News.
But there was a whiff of hope in the air Tuesday during a job fair in Belledune to help get some of the 420 laid-off smelter employees back to work.
The plant closure, announced by owner Glencore Canada Corp. in November, has sent municipal officials scrambling to mitigate the impact on affected families and the regional economy. The smelter is set to close at the end of the year.
A recovery committee was formed and one of its first moves was to hold the job fair, which saw 37 companies and droves of workers show up.
Denis Caron, the committee's president and Port of Belledune CEO, said the fair is a short-term plan, and the committee is focused on longer-term solutions.
"We're looking to really put into place strategies or recommend to government certain policies that will make a substantive change here in the region," Caron said.
In the meantime, the committee wanted to connect workers with local businesses. Still, Caron said, many opportunities found at the fair Tuesday aren't in the region.
Of the 37 companies, 18 are from the Chaleur and Restigouche region. Caron said the others, chiefly mining groups, came from Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.
"I don't really want to move," Landry said. "All my family is here, my mom is 91, she's still going on strong, but if I have to move, I did it before and I will do it again."
Shortly after speaking with CBC News, he filled out a form with Blais Industries of Rouyn-Noranda, Que.
Nikolas Aubertin, a human resources representative with Blais Industries, said the company works closely with a Glenore-operated smelter near its home base in western Quebec and sees the Belledune workforce as a good fit.
"It's exactly what we're looking for, so we really think it's going to be a positive thing for us," Aubertin said. "We hope we're going to find a lot of interested people.
He said the company is looking to fill 50 openings across a variety of trades.
Belledune Mayor Joe Noel said the municipality and the recovery committee are working to attract new companies to the region. He told reporters Tuesday they're in talks with a few companies, including Maritime Iron, Arianne Phosphate and other unnamed groups.
"We've got four or five companies that are looking at coming here," Noel said.
Many hopes rely on Maritime Iron setting up its proposed $1.5-billion iron-ore processing facility in Belledune. The company said it will create 1,300 direct jobs during construction and 200 permanent jobs during the plant's operations.
"We're just waiting for the environmental assessment impact to come back and, after that, it looks like they'll be ready to go," Noel said.
With files from Tori Weldon