Thompson's loss of jobs Canada's gain: Clement

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thompson's loss of jobs Canada's gain: Clement
Miner downsizing in Manitoba, investing $10B elsewhere
By: Mia Rabson and Larry Kusch

OTTAWA -- He's sorry for Thompson but a $10-billion investment in mines is good for the rest of Canada, Industry Minister Tony Clement said Thursday in the House of Commons.

Clement was responding to a question from Churchill MP Niki Ashton about a plan by Brazilian mining company Vale SA to close the Thompson nickel smelter and refinery by 2015.

It will result in the loss of 500 jobs in Thompson, about 40 per cent of the Vale SA workforce in the northern Manitoba city.

Clement told Ashton he would speak to the Manitoba government about it and said his officials would meet with her to get "all the facts on the table."

Then he said the news might be bad for Thompson but there is good news for the rest of Canada -- a $10-billion investment in Vale's other operations in Sudbury, Ont., Long Harbour and Voisey's Bay, N.L., and Saskatchewan that will result in 1,000 permanent jobs.

"The context of this, however, is that the announcement that is so affecting her community in a negative way is also part of a larger announcement where thousands of jobs will be created throughout the rest of the country," said Clement. "I know she has to defend her people. I understand that, but this is good for Canada in the overall."

Ashton was incensed by Clement's response. "The guy is not committed here," said Ashton. "Manitobans are just as Canadian as people in Sudbury, in Long Harbour and Voisey's Bay."

The Thompson smelter and refinery will be closed because there is a shortage of mineral reserves for it to process. Vale SA also decided it could not meet tough new federal sulphur dioxide emissions standards that would require it to cut emissions from the Thompson smelter by 88 per cent in five years.

Ashton said if its federal standards involved, clearly the federal government can be part of the solution.

Ashton said Clement needs to show he is committed to the people of Thompson and that he should be the one to bring Vale SA to the table to figure out how to save the smelter and refinery.

"He's a cheerleader for Vale and isn't standing up for Canadian workers who are losing their jobs," Ashton said.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger flew to Thompson for a meeting Thursday morning with city officials. He said it's premature to discuss any incentives the province may offer Vale SA not to close the refinery.

"We first want to meet with them and find out what their thinking is and ask them to consider alternatives (to closing the nickel smelter and refinery)," said Selinger.

The premier said he was confident the province would be able to arrange a meeting with the company soon.

"When we do, we'll sit down and see what they have to offer and what their thinking is and also put the case forward for why Thompson is a good place to do business."

Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen criticized the province for failing to anticipate Vale's decision. He cited a 2005 Free Press article that said Thompson would only be processing ore from Newfoundland until Vale's smelter there was completed.

He said it would have been easier to mitigate the impact of Vale's announcement on the northern Manitoba community if Selinger "hadn't failed so miserably to anticipate (Wednesday's) announcement."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2010 A12