Nova Scotia

'Back to Alberta': Laid-off Donkin mine workers ponder their future

Forty-nine Donkin mine workers are considering returning to work in Alberta after getting their layoff notices Tuesday.

Cape Breton cabinet minister believes job losses are 'a temporary bump in the road'

Brian Guthro is one of 49 people laid off at the Donkin mine on Tuesday. (CBC)

When Brian Guthro was called into work at the Donkin mine during his week off, he thought it could be for drug testing or notice of a crew change. Instead he got a layoff notice.

"They told me they were downsizing," he said.

"I'm pretty upset. I love my job out there, it's a great job, right. You can't get a better job in Cape Breton."

Guthro was one of 49 people laid off at the mine on Tuesday, a move the mine's vice-president said was necessary as the company attempts to increase production to make the operation economically viable. All the laid-off miners are native Cape Bretoners.

After being laid off Tuesday, Mitch Tracey said he will likely have to consider a return to Alberta for work. (CBC)

Vice-president Shannon Campbell said miners have encountered far more challenging conditions underground than expected. He said the company, Kameron Coal Management, needs to take time to go through the regulatory process in order to  update its mine plan and bring in new custom equipment.

For people such as Guthro, the news came as a shock and means it would be "back to the out-west thing," something he isn't looking forward to.

"They tell you that the mine's going to be here for the next 40 years and then they fire you, " he said. 

He said he just finished a course that the company had sent him on, and joined the mine rescue team.

Laid-off miners are shown leaving Donkin Mine on Tuesday. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Like Guthro, Mitch Tracey found his thoughts drifting to Alberta on Tuesday, a place he thought he might be done with.

"A lot of people turned down jobs out west and everything to work here and stay home," he said.

That includes Tracey. He started at the mine three months ago.

"I guess it was coming — they're not making money there so they had to do what they had to do," he said.

"I'll probably head back to Alberta."

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan, also the MLA for Glace Bay, said Tuesday's news is sad but he believes it's a temporary setback for a mine he hopes can help the region's economy. (CBC)

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan, also the MLA for Glace Bay, said Tuesday, the job losses are a sad development.

"First and foremost, 49 families got some pretty tough news today," he told reporters in Halifax.

That's never easy, said MacLellan, but it's especially difficult given the excitement about the prospects of the mine when it ramped up operations. Before the layoffs, the workforce had grown to 130 people.

'A tough bump, for sure'

MacLellan said he's still hoping the mine can help solve some of the region's economic woes.

The company, a subsidiary of Cline Group, has made tremendous investments in the operation, MacLellan said. The layoffs are "a temporary bump in the road, but it's a tough bump, for sure," he said.

"The long-term market for coal is viable. This product, both in quantity and quality, is top shelf. There's going to be an international market there and they're going to need the workforce to get it out of the ground and get it to market swiftly."

No shortcuts on regulations

MacLellan said the company appreciates the mining history in Nova Scotia and the tragedies of the past century.

While the government is willing to help with the regulatory process, there will be no corners cut to speed things up, he said.

"Absolutely no back doors and to be crystal clear, [Kameron] have never asked for that from the province," he said.

"They understand that we've got to follow the acts and regulations."

Shannon Campbell is vice-president of the Donkin mine. (CBC)

Campbell didn't directly address a question about efforts to unionize the mine.

"That's up to the workers. That's really not up to me," he said.

"We'll work with whoever. We think that the individual has a better stance at representing themselves and we have an open-door policy and we work very well with our employees."


Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at

With files from Gary Mansfield