Nova Scotia

Former N.L. mayor delivers warning about mill

A former mayor of Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., recommends Nova Scotia not play "hardball" with the Bowater Mersey paper mill near Liverpool.

A former mayor of Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., recommends Nova Scotia not play "hardball" with the Bowater Mersey paper mill near Liverpool.

"Be prepared for the worst," Rex Barnes told CBC News.

Barnes was mayor of Grand Falls-Windsor in 2009 when AbitibiBowater shut down that town's century-old mill. The company wanted to cut labour costs, but local union members rejected that proposal because it would have meant cutting jobs.

"From our experience we found that when Abitibi says to the unions that if things don't change and we can't make ends meet, they'll close the mill, well, people better take them at their word because they will close the mill," Barnes said.

Barnes says he now realizes the proposed cuts were not a ploy on the part of the company and that he and the union "shouldn't have played hardball".

AbitibiBowater owns Bowater Mersey Paper Company Ltd., which employs 300 people in Liverpool. Company officials met Wednesday with workers and representatives of the province of Nova Scotia to argue for a reduction in the mill's costs.

The company will be closing the mill for a week later this month as a cost-cutting measure. AbitibiBowater spokesman Seth Kursman said the mill's freight advantage just isn't large enough to offset the high manufacturing costs.

"This plant has the highest industrial electricity prices of any jurisdiction where the company operates, and that's before you add on the recently discussed tax hikes," he said earlier this week.

Kursman also adds that labour costs are higher at the Liverpool mill than at any other of their newsprint mills.

"All that together creates a very difficult operating environment," he said.

The company has given the province of Nova Scotia and Bowater Mersey employees just a few weeks to come up with a plan to make the mill a viable operation.

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