Tomorrow, March 28, marks the fifth year since the shutdown of the mill by AbitibiBowater in 2009. Yet, the newsprint industry that went kaput here is still very much alive, elsewhere.
AbitibiBowater re-emerged from bankruptcy protection as Resolute Forest Products; a mill in Port Hawkesbury, N.S. re-opened with a new owner, as one machine mill; Irvings have announced $450 million to upgrade its St. John mill. And the PCs (unlike Danny Williams glad to see the back of the head of AbitibiBowater) have given Kruger a $110 million loan to keep the Corner Brook mill in production. Kruger was fitted with a glass slipper loan whereas, AbibitiBowater was given a boot in the groin.
A MUN professor noted in 2009 that it would take 10 years to recover from the shutdown blow - the loss of 800 jobs (stump to port). If the past five years are an indicator, he was spot on.
How many new good jobs exist in the forestry sector? Zero!
How many new industries use the power on the Exploits? Zero!
What new industry is making Botwood a thriving port? Zero!
What has the PC Government done to clean up mill property? Zero!
How many new jobs have been created at Grand Falls House? Zero!
How much is NALCOR paying Grand Falls-Windsor and Bishop's Falls to replace the AbitiBowater's grant-in-lieu of taxes? Zero!
What have our three PC, MHAs accomplished on these issues? Zero!
Severance and unemployment cheques have long run out and the resources once tied to the mill are now five years in limbo. Why hasn't the Government been able to attract an industry to make use of them? Did Premier Danny Williams make the forest industry once bitten-twice shy by expropriating AbitibiBowater's assets?
The Grand Falls mill came into being 1905 under the guiding hands of Nova Scotian, Harry Crowe and associates. They were keenly aware of the potential of the Exploits Valley's hydro and forestry resources and went knocking on doors of investors. Harmsworths of London let them in. And the rest is history.
The ministerial committee set up after the mill closed was a - no Crowe - for sure. What ever happened to that rudderless committee? Did any doors get knocked on at all? Is there any sense of urgency in Confederation Building that the local economy needs rejuvenation? Is there any sense the resources must be re-developed here as a payback for the blood, sweat and tears and the umpteen millions paid in taxes by generations of workers who worked year-in, year-out, year round, from 1905 to 2009? What town, region of Newfoundland can match that record?
The AND Company did well with its 50 per cent share in profits from the Buchans mine. That deal kept the AND Company here even when the mill was marginal. Ironically, it's another mine near Buchans, Duck Pond, that has been a big factor in keeping the wheels on the bus of our economy for the past five years.
However, in 2015, Duck Pond shuts down. Who or what will replace Teck's millions in paycheques, its purchases of goods and services, and its generous donations? Who will have to move out of the region because of mine's closing? Who will buy the houses put on the market? What businesses will close or face lay offs?
The sting of Teck's exit will now compound with the past five years of changes, downsizing and shutdowns that have happened (or to happen) at Cable 9, CBC, Transcontinental, Wells Fargo, Terra Shoe Factory Outlet, Red Cross Blood Bank, Toromont, College of the North Atlantic and the School Board. All those happenings are neither good for the economy nor the town's image. More hurt is on the way with the impending loss of door-to-door mail delivery - good paying jobs, out the door for good.
A least-obvious eroding of our economy is the sector that's gone and going underground - literally. As pensioners die their incomes disappear from our economy, forever.
Unlike the old days (with a mill) there is no new wave of big pensions to replace them. Where are the incomes to fill the gap that will be left by hundreds of them in the coming years? Who will buy their homes?
New jobs in retail and fast foods are bonuses and give a buzz to the economy. However, they are no match for the much higher-paying jobs lost by provincial and federal government?s cutbacks and shutdowns at AbitibiBowater and Teck's Duck Pond mine.
As for Grand Falls House, some see its land as prime residential building lots. A daffy idea by those ignorant of Grand Falls House - its history and heritage and how it represents the hard work of previous generations who made the town what is today.
Surely a province that has pumped millions ($1 million this year alone) into Marble Mountain can come up with a doable budget for the maintenance and operations of Grand Falls House.
The Exploits Valley is teeming with natural resources. Thus, as we enter the sixth year of the mill shutdown the future of the region - just as it did in 1905 - still lies with hydro power and the forestry.
Bringing back jobs based on our resources will attract the professionals, trades and the semi-skilled. Such new jobs have a much better chance of keeping younger families here,as without them, we are heading down a road that's really a dead end.
The town's classy Latin motto, "E silva surrexi" (I arose from the forest) has been sidelined for a trendy, catchy, the "Perfectly Centered.?
Sadly, for the past five years, the provincial government's foot-dragging on the assets tied to the mill have made the town, all too perfectly centered, for - zeros.
And smoke and mirrors announcements to do with the provincial budget and the Salmon Festival can't change that reality!
Andy Barker at email@example.com