Legislative Report (19 September 2007)

NDP Desparation Shows in Domtar Deal

It’s an agreement that came unglued faster than a cheap model airplane.

With only weeks to go before an anticipated call to the polls, Lorne Calvert, flanked by members of his NDP cabinet, arrived at the Forestry Centre in Prince Albert. In tow were top officials from Domtar, the company that now owns the former Weyerhaeuser pulp mill that closed two years ago (a closure that resulted in more than 700 jobs lost).

Lorne Calvert couldn’t wait to tell the people of Prince Albert the news. Domtar had signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The second line of the government news release indicated the mill could be re-opened as early as next summer or fall. When the Premier spoke to reporters, the first words out of his mouth were highly charged and political: Under a Saskatchewan Party government, this deal never would have happened.

Phase One in the un-gluing began with the release of the actual four page MOU. The document is not legally binding. It commits the province to paying for a 70 percent share of the clean up at the old mill site. In exchange, Domtar makes this promise: to use commercially reasonable efforts to reopen the Prince Albert pulp mill. Never before have so many taxpayers’ dollars been put on the line for such a thin promise.

Phase Two of the un-gluing began when reporters began seeking out clarification on the MOU from Domtar officials. Michel Rathier, a Domtar Vice-president, made it clear it was far too premature to contemplate a date for when the mill would be back up and running. In fact, Mr. Rathier said it would take a year of feasibility studies and consultations before Domtar was in a better position to determine when and even if the pulp mill can reopen.

These comments prompted the Calvert NDP to issue a Friday afternoon news release that attempted to clarify this obvious contradiction. According to the release, all parties were reiterating their commitment to reopen the mill by the late summer or early fall of next year. When pressed for comment on the NDP’s news release, Mr. Rathier said such a timetable was possible to achieve — if the moon and the starts align just right.

Phase Three of the un-gluing came just a few days ago. Raymond Royer, President and CEO of Domtar addressed an audience in New York. Mr. Royer described the agreement with the Calvert NDP in far less certain terms. “…the understanding is that we would consider re-opening that mill…but there are many things that need to happen before we get there”.

It should also be noted that local First Nations say they were never consulted about this “deal”. In fact, they received a copy of the MOU from the Saskatchewan Party caucus, not the NDP government, which continues to demonstrate its lack of respect for First Nations by its failure to consult with them.

Why the sudden rush to announce what turns out to be so very little? Well, the whole thing reeks of politics. Desperate to deflect attention from its sorry record, including deplorable highways, long waiting lists and payouts to un-deserving former public servants, the NDP manufactured what it hoped people would see as a consensus. The problem is the lack of anything in the agreement that can justify the NDP hype.

Those who remember the last election will compare this latest Lorne Calvert fiasco to the Broe deal prior to the last election. As he sat on a backhoe for the assembled reporters and schoolchildren, Lorne Calvert promised an ethanol plant at Belle Plaine. It never happened. The deal was a sham.

Once again, families are given false hope so a tired, old NDP government can attempt to polish its political fortunes. This time, however, people are seeing this for what it is.

If you have a question about this report or any other matter, just Contact Lyle.

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