Nova Scotia

'No clear answers': PC leader calls for details on Northern Pulp transition team

Tory Leader Tim Houston says the provincial government should have been ready to hit the ground running with its transition team intended to help forestry workers as the Northern Pulp mill prepares to shut down by the end of January.

Team and $50M fund part of response to mill shutdown looming at end of January

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S. will close by the end of January. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Tory Leader Tim Houston says the provincial government should have been ready to hit the ground running with its transition team intended to help forestry workers as the Northern Pulp mill prepares to shut down by the end of January.

Earlier this month, Premier Stephen McNeil announced the Pictou County-based mill would not receive an extension to continue treating effluent in Boat Harbour beyond the end of January. The extension was requested in the midst of the mill's inability to get government approval to build a new effluent treatment facility.

Without a place to send its effluent, the mill cannot operate.

In announcing his decision, McNeil also detailed plans for a transition team that would include officials from multiple departments, the forestry sector and Nova Scotia Community College and work with a $50-million fund to help workers trying to determine their next step.

Although a toll-free number was set up to answer questions (1-888-315-0110) and the head of the transition team has been announced — Kelliann Dean, deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade — the rest of the team has yet to be announced.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston says the government needs to get the public more information more quickly about the Northern Pulp transition team and fund. (CBC)

It also remains unclear exactly what the team's objectives will be and how performance will be measured, said Houston.

"All of these things just kind of add to the anxiety of people when there's no clear answers on that type of stuff," he said in a phone interview.

Given that this outcome was always a possibility, and how much people have riding on the situation, Houston, the MLA for Pictou East, said the government should have been better prepared.

"And that's what concerns me is at this stage now time is passing, people are concerned and we have an idea from the government about a transition team but it's definitely not hitting the ground running and that's a missed opportunity."

Transition team to meet soon

In a statement, a government spokesperson said officials remain committed to helping the workers and forestry sector deal with the loss of what is the largest player. The mill employed about 350 people and several thousand jobs within the sector have ties to the mill.

The rest of the transition team is expected to meet and be announced in early January, according to the statement and calls are already coming in to the toll-free number where "support and customized responses" are provided depending on the caller's needs.

"In the meantime, staff have been engaging with industry to gather information on impacted workers and determine the most effective way to support those in immediate need. Needs are being considered on a case by case basis."

Houston said the transition team and fund are both positive steps, but the process needs to be clearer to the public and it needs to be as transparent as possible.

"Everyone wants this to be a successful transition. We know it's going to be a painful transition, but we all want it to be successful. And it can only be successful if we understand the objectives of the government and we're provided responses back."

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