by Stephen Kimber on September 24, 2012 | 2 Comments
I have rewritten this column three times in the past three days as the on, then off, then on-again deal to re-start the NewPage mill in Point Tupper played itself out in after-hours news releases and hastily convened press conferences.But my essential question hasn’t changed. How much is more than too much?
It’s far from the first time Nova Scotia governments have—or should have—smacked up against that question.
During the sixties and seventies, successive Liberal and Tory governments grappled with the issue of whether to pour more tax dollars into the bottomless pit that was Sydney Steel to save disappearing jobs and protect threatened communities. They kept pouring. We’re still paying. The mill is a memory.
Given our sad history with businesses deemed “too big to fail,” the NDP’s dance of the seven deals with Pacific West Commercial Corp., the mill’s if-the-price-is-very-right buyers, seems all too familiar.
After a year’s scramble, Pacific West had agreed to pay $33 million for the mill, but its contribution was more—way more—than offset by $66.5 million in government loans ($26.5 million of them forgivable), not to forget another $58 million in additional government spending to help pay off the plant’s creditors and support “sustainable practices.”
Even that, by itself, wasn’t enough to reopen the plant.
Unionized workers had had to agree that the work force be cut in half, accept pay cuts and allow their previous pension plan to disappear. Richmond County had to agree to chop its tax bill in half. Nova Scotia Power had to say yes to a sweetheart deal on power rates and the Canada Revenue Agency had to to bless it in advance.
When the CRA declined to do so, we were into a hail-Mary Plan B which, after a false stop, now seems to be the done, Plan C deal.
Three hundred mill jobs and another 400 in the forest saved. Paper rolling next month...
But if the mill isn’t sustainable today without so many grants and giveaways, will it ever be?
And if it won’t, shouldn’t we be investing in alternatives now instead of failure tomorrow?
Copyright 2012 Stephen Kimber