Question Period (26 May 2005)

Question Period

From Hansard - 26 May 2005

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Worldwide Pork Ceases Operations
Mr. Stewart: Mr. Speaker, yesterday hundreds of people in Moose Jaw and area were dealt a devastating blow. Worldwide Pork in Moose Jaw shut down operations, laid off 300 workers, and left dozens of hog producers and local businesses wondering if and when they will ever get paid.

Mr. Speaker, this government is one of the owners of Worldwide Pork. They invested $1 million in this business. And the Minister of Agriculture is listed as a major shareholder. Mr. Speaker, beyond the governments $1 million equity investment, does the government have any outstanding loans to Worldwide Pork?

Hon. Mr. Wartman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Yes, Mr. Speaker, the government does hold a position in Worldwide Pork. And Worldwide Pork is however a private company, and the owner of that company has been working diligently recently to try and restructure relationships with both the producers and within the company to try and make this company successful.

Today layoff notices did go out, and there will be a downtime, Mr. Speaker. But it is our hope and we are monitoring very closely it is our hope indeed that Worldwide Pork will be back up processing and being a vital part of the economy in Moose Jaw and this province. Thank you.

Mr. Stewart: Mr. Speaker, when the government invests in business ventures, they have a responsibility to ensure that people dont get hurt. The collapse of Worldwide Pork is a disaster for everyone involved the 300 families who lost their jobs, the hog producers and other businesses who are owed money, and Saskatchewan taxpayers who are on the hook for $1 million at least. Can the minister tell the 300 workers who lost their jobs yesterday if and when they will get their jobs back?

Hon. Mr. Wartman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, we have a secured position of course with Worldwide Pork. And as I indicated in the first answer to the question, the owner is working diligently to try and restructure the relationship with the producers. The producers need to be delivering hogs if the plant is going to be operational. And there has to be a confidence that the owner will provide them the returns that they deserve for their hogs. Mr. Speaker, in order to do that, there needs to be a restructuring. Now is the time when that owner is trying to get that restructuring in place.

There are other options that could be pursued down the road, Mr. Speaker, and certainly we will be on top of it. And we want to see a vital operation there in Moose Jaw, and thats what were working towards. Thank you.

Mr. Stewart: Mr. Speaker, hog producers stopped delivering to Worldwide Pork a couple of weeks ago because they werent getting paid. The Minister of Agriculture is one of the owners and hes not paying his bills.

Mr. Speaker, producers have told us that Worldwide Pork owes them as much as $3.5 million, and they fear they may be at the bottom of the list of creditors. Can the minister tell us today how much money does Worldwide Pork owe hog producers, and when can they expect to be paid?

Hon. Mr. Wartman: Well, Mr. Speaker, this seems odd coming from the Conservative member opposite, advising on government involvement in investment. But we know that they like to play both sides of the fence verbally as often as they can, Mr. Speaker.

But, Mr. Speaker, as a responsible holder of debt in this company, we certainly want to see it productive. We want to see it operational. And those people who have been delivering to Worldwide Pork knew that there was risk in delivering and were receiving a premium for delivering to that plant, Mr. Speaker. That premium was to encourage them despite the risks there. And, Mr. Speaker, once that relationship is restructured, it is the owners hope that they will continue to deliver product there. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Stewart: Mr. Speaker, lets try again. This NDP [New Democratic Party] government keeps telling us how they have to bring in labour laws to protect workers from bad corporations. Yet what does this government do with one of the companies it owns? It lays off 300 workers. It doesnt pay its bills. Not exactly a model corporate citizen.

Mr. Speaker, this NDP government walked away from millions of dollars of outstanding bills in SPUDCO [Saskatchewan Potato Utility Development Company]. Now they appear to be doing the same thing again. The people of Moose Jaw and area would like a specific answer. When will Worldwide Pork re-open? When will the workers get their jobs back? When will hog producers and other creditors get paid? And how much money exactly is owing to hog producers?

Hon. Mr. Wartman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, these high-rolling financiers across the way here seem to be mistaking something between owning a company, Mr. Speaker, and carrying some of the debt in that company, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I think it is very . . . Ill step back and just say I think it is very important that all of us understand the distinction between being an owner and holding some of the debt. We do hold some of the debt. It is secured, Mr. Speaker, and we want to make sure that taxpayers money is protected in this.

The owner is responsible for the operations of that plant. And, Mr. Speaker, we are encouraging that owner to follow through, to restructure in a responsible way so that those people who he owes money to can be paid and so that this operation can move forward and be productive in the future. Thats our hope. Thats what were working towards, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

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