Saturday, November 20, 2010


Out here in the middle of nowhere the news has been hot as the infamous Vale Inco of Sudbury strike fame has decided to close their smelter in Thompson Manitoba citing both a lack of nearby refinable ore and difficulty in meeting federal pollution control regulations. Some may see this as a "feint" designed to get either an exemption from the regulations or yet another government subsidy to meet them. Yet, believe it or not, I'm inclined to believe at least part of the company's rationale as it makes little sense to truck ore half way across the country to be processed in northern Manitoba. This latest move, however, may be a cause for regret for Thompson members of the USW when they didn't go on a sympathy strike with their brothers and sisters in Ontario (and the still striking miners in Labrador).

Be that as it may, let's assume the die is cast. the following article from the Winnipeg Free Press shows how cynical the federal Conservative government is in regards to the people of Thompson. Business interests trump all after all. Meanwhile here in Manitoba the local Conservatives are playing politics claiming that the provincial NDP government should "have anticipated" the closure. Did their friends in Ottawa anticipate it ? Maybe they did, but they certainly don't care. After all smelter workers and natives rarely vote Conservative anyways. Bugger them as long as Vale gives donations to the Party and offers soft jobs to its nominees.


Meanwhile here is the item from the Winnipeg Free Press.

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."
Let's accept the idea that the Thompson smelter is an essentially bad idea. It is both uneconomic and heavily polluting ( without either government exemptions or subsidy). Let us also, however, understand that the smelter has benefited from decades of government subsidies in terms of unpaid infrastructure and low power rates (smelters don't operate on 60 watt bulbs). Does the Province of Manitoba owe Inco's heir, Vale Inco, anything ? No !!! If anything the balance is all on the other side. However, to be generous let Vale strip the premises of whatever they want except things that might contribute to a more appropriate use. Chalk up the premises and such amenities to the decades of subsidy.

What would be such an alternative use ? The answer is just a little (little in Northern terms) bit down the road in Flin Flon. The Flin Flon operation for growing medical marijuana is due to be closed in 2012 due to a dispute between the operators Prairie Plant Systems and the 'landlord' Hudson bay Mining and Smelting. This operation produces Canada's 'medical marijuana' crop (to my understanding of poor quality). What I would suggest is that the province of Manitoba, the City of Thompson and the United Steelworkers representing present workers in Thompson make a bid to convert the smelter to a new facility for growing this crop. I further recommend that the ownership of this facility be tripartite between the above mentioned parties.

Is this advantageous to the Province ? Yes ! The energy subsidies to such an operation would be far less than those for a smelter. Is this advantageous to Thompson and the workers ? Yes ! Jobs are preserved, and the local economy thrives. Here is where political courage comes into play. In Canada the Narcotics Control Act is a federal law. Yet, just as in the USA where California has all but legalized marijuana by "over-defining medical use" it is within the powers of a Canadian province as they have responsibility for health to act likewise. It is also a fact that the RCMP are contracted by the Province and are thus subject to directives from the Province as to what law enforcement priorities they should have.

With an expansion of the present piddling Canadian marijuana growing operation it is entirely feasible that all the jobs in Thompson could be preserved, and let me say that the new jobs would be a lot more pleasant than the old ones. We will say nothing about "medical tourism" for now except to briefly mention it. Who would oppose such an enterprise ? Certainly Conservative politicians and organized crime (whose prices would be undercut tremendously). Perhaps Conservative politicians and organized crime are two words for similar things. Perhaps even crime and policing costs in Winnipeg would drop dramatically. But Conservative politicians would be very unhappy about that because it would undercut their "market share" of the vote just as it would undercut the "market share" of the marijuana trade of the gangs..

Does the provincial NDP have the courage to do such a thing ? I doubt it, but it is a policy worth considering. Perhaps the only realistic way to save jobs in Thompson.

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