N.L. not on hook for Abitibi payout: Williams

Premier Danny Williams says the Newfoundland and Labrador government will not share the $130-million settlement the federal government made with AbitibiBowater.

Premier Danny Williams says the Newfoundland and Labrador government will not share the $130-million settlement the federal government made with AbitibiBowater.

Premier Danny Williams said Wednesday that Newfoundland and Labrador will not be expected to contribute to a $130-million trade settlement with AbitibiBowater. ((CBC))

"We're very, very pleased," Williams told reporters Wednesday in St. John's, adding that he has no regrets about a controversial move to seize assets from the struggling Montreal-based newsprint producer after it decided to shut down a mill in central Newfoundland.

The federal government announced Tuesday evening it will pay $130 million to settle a claim AbitibiBowater had made under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In return, AbitibiBowater has agreed to drop its trade challenge, which it originally said involved as much as $500 million in damages.

Williams, who said he has spoken with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the settlement will be borne entirely by the federal government, even though his government quickly arranged an expropriation of timber, hydro and other assets in late 2008.

"If you [have] a couple of days, I can tell you all the reasons why Newfoundland and Labrador is not being treated unfairly here, and I'm not being flip with you, I'm just being quite honest," Williams told reporters.

"We make a huge contribution to Canada and I've said it time and time again, through our natural resources and through everything we do."

AbitibiBowater filed the complaint after the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature passed the expropriation bill after after AbitibiBowater announced it would close a century-old newsprint mill in Grand Falls-Windsor. 

The government revealed earlier this year that it had, in its rush to pass that bill, inadvertently expropriated the mill itself. The government had maintained that the aging, contaminated mill was the company's problem.

Speaking with reporters in St. John's on Wednesday, Williams said the only thing he would do differently is ensure that the mill would not be expropriated.

"But that was a mistake that was made internally," he said.

"And, you know, that's probably the only black mark that we have on this, but you know, at the end of the day, that's turned out to be something good as well."

Company satisfied

Although AbitibiBowater had sought substantially more money in its claim, the company is satisfied with the resolution.

"Given, of course, the particular set of circumstances that we face at this time, and as you can imagine also the inherent uncertainty of any judicial process with important expenses in terms of defending the case to the end — if you consider all this, it is our opinion that the settlement is a fair one," said Jean-Philippe Côté, AbitibiBowater's director of public affairs.

Côté would not comment on how Newfoundland and Labrador handled its dispute with AbitibiBowater, other than to say that the trade complaint has been settled.

Meanwhile, Williams also said that environmental issues with the former AbitibiBowater properties have not been resolved.

He said while Newfoundland and Labrador is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada with an appeal of a Quebec Appeal Court decision that cleared the company of environmental responsibility, AbitibiBowater has applied to N.L. courts to have environmental cleanup orders quashed.

In May, Williams conceded that taxpayers would have to cover the costs of cleaning up the contaminated industrial sites. An official estimate of such a cost has not been released.