N.S. government still coming to grips with impact of Northern Pulp shutdown
Transition team unsure how many workers will need province's help
Key government members of the team created to try to cushion the blow of the Northern Pulp shutdown have told a legislature committee they are committed to their work and care about the families affected by the loss of the Pictou County pulp mill.
But the team's leader also admitted Wednesday the Nova Scotia government doesn't have a firm number on how many people the province may be called on to help.
Following almost two hours of questioning by the committee, Kelliann Dean, chair of the Forestry Transition Team, told reporters it doesn't have a figure on the number of people who may lose their jobs now that Northern Pulp is no longer operating.
"We know how many workers there are at Northern Pulp, and how many workers have been displaced, have been laid off at Northern Pulp," Dean said. "We will only know who we're helping by who comes forward at the Access Nova Scotia centres."
People who are out of work as a result of the shutdown are being asked to register at Nova Scotia Works offices for help finding a new job.
The Nova Scotia government is offering free job counselling, retraining and apprenticeships, as well as trying to match employers who need workers with potential employees.
Tim Houston, leader of Nova Scotia's Official Opposition,was critical of the fact the team did not have firm job loss numbers.
"Making sure we have a diversified economy that's functioning at the highest level is important," he told reporters. "That starts with understanding how the economy works, and when when the government says they don't really understand how many people are involved, they're saying they don't understand how the economy works.
The parent company of Northern Pulp has said the mill employed 350 people and that more than 2,000 of the 11,000 forestry-sector jobs in the province were tied to the operation. The mill shut down Jan. 31 after Premier Stephen McNeil refused to extend the life of its effluent treatment plant in Boat Harbour.
In December, McNeil announced a $50-million transition fund intended to help the industry in the short term while also looking at a long-term shift away from relying so heavily on a single player, as it has with Northern Pulp.
Transition team member Ava Czapalay, the associate deputy minister of labour and advanced education, told the all-party committee Wednesday her department has catalogued 204 building and other capital projects planned in the province this year.
"So if people say there aren't jobs in Nova Scotia that's not quite correct," said Czapalay. "And there's jobs in rural Nova Scotia as well."
Some of those projects include work at the Irving shipyard in Halifax building the new Arctic and offshore patrol ships, home construction in the Halifax area, as well as work to decommission the Sable Offshore Energy Project.
Julie Towers, deputy minister of lands and forestry, estimated as many as 400 people have lost their jobs since the Dec. 20 announcement by McNeil confirming he would honour his commitment to shut down Boat Harbour.
New Democrat MLA Claudia Chender urged the team to add community members to its ranks in order to take a broader view of the needed transition, similar to the way the previous NDP government handled the closure of the Bowater Mersey paper mill near Liverpool.
"We could think about the economic future of rural Nova Scotia," she said.
"It feels like we're letting that opportunity by."
The former mill site is now home to Port Mersey Commercial Park which houses a half-dozen businesses, including Aqualitas Inc , a cannabis grower and supplier.
- This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly reported that people who are out of work as a result of the Northern Pulp shutdown are being asked to register at Access Nova Scotia for help finding a new job. In fact, they should register at Nova Scotia Works offices.Feb 05, 2020 6:55 PM AT