Thunder Bay

Hornepayne mayor says community can't afford to lose skilled labour jobs

The mayor of Hornepayne, Ont., says people have already started leaving his small township because of a lengthy lumber mill closure affecting employment.

Morley Forster seeks 'satisfactory end to this right now' as residents start to get 'testy'

The northern Ontario community of Hornepayne has roughly 1,000 residents. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

The mayor of Hornepayne, Ont., says people have already started leaving his small township because of a lengthy lumber mill closure affecting employment.

The Olav Haavaldsrud Timber Company shut down its mill in the community last November, laying off 146 workers as it seeks to reach a resolution with the province over how it intends to sell power from its co-generation plant.

"We can't afford to have people leave the community with skilled labour skills, we need to preserve that workforce because once it's gone, it'll be very difficult to bring it back," said Mayor Morley Forster, who represents roughly 1,000 residents. 

"The mood in Hornepayne has been fairly positive, but it's starting to get testy."

Last year's shutdown came after the company wasn't permitted to sell more power to the provincial grid from the co-generation facility it also owns. Company owners have said they need the increased sales to keep the entire enterprise viable.

The mayor said he has set up his own meetings with the provincial ministers responsible for northern development and natural resources for later this month but he's still trying to meet with Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli.

We need to see a satisfactory end to this right now.- Hornepayne Mayor Morley Forster

"There are people now though that are getting a little bit concerned and starting to point fingers, and I don't know exactly where [they need] to be pointed, but they have to be pointed elsewhere than at anybody in town here," Forster said.

The mayor told CBC News he has been writing letters and making calls on behalf of the mill company, but time continues to pass and no resolution appears on the horizon. In January, New Democrat MPP Michael Mantha said the province had met with mill owners but couldn't reach an agreement.

Hornepayne Mayor Morley Forster says he is trying to schedule a meeting with provincial Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli to help resolve a mill closure in his township. (LinkedIn)
Guy Bourgoin, the president of the United Steelworkers local that represents the mill workers, said earlier this week that the union wants to schedule its own meetings with the province.

"Which we're awaiting a response on, so that we can talk to appropriate ministers, bring the employees with us ... and then find out what's going on, what's the issues," Bourgoin said.

For Forster and the residents of Hornepayne, time is of the essence. 

"We need to see a satisfactory end to this right now," the mayor said.

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