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Powell River paper mill shuts down operations indefinitely, over 200 workers impacted

·3 min read
Paper Excellence is  shutting down its Catalyst Paper tiskwat mill in Powell River, B.C. The mill has produced paper for over 100 years.  (Submitted by Eldon Haggarty - image credit)
Paper Excellence is shutting down its Catalyst Paper tiskwat mill in Powell River, B.C. The mill has produced paper for over 100 years. (Submitted by Eldon Haggarty - image credit)

Paper Excellence is indefinitely closing its Powell River paper mill, impacting over 200 workers at the mill and others in the product's supply chain.

The Catalyst Paper tiskwat mill, which has been producing paper for over 100 years, has had a rocky year.

It was temporarily shut down at the start of the pandemic. When it restarted operations this spring, only half its machines were running and only around 200 of the more than 320 workers who lost their jobs could return.

In a press release, Paper Excellence said the mill is no longer financially viable.

"The ongoing contraction of global paper markets and paper prices, particularly in Asia, are creating significant ongoing financial losses at the mill," it read.

"Despite the best efforts of the mill's committed team of employees, the facility is simply not viable under the reality of today's market conditions."

Unifor Local 76 President Bill Spence said the news was not surprising, but still a shock.

"It's one thing to see the train coming at you, it's another thing to see it hit you," Spence said on CBC's All Points West.

Spence says workers will have full-time work until Jan. 31, mainly to clean up the mill and preserve assets. After that, they will have to either go on employment insurance or look for new work. Severance, as per the collective agreement, won't be paid out until the company decides the closure is permanent.

Some of the workers might go to Paper Excellence's other operations in Crofton and Port Alberni; others might have to move elsewhere.

"There are a few jobs in Powell River but they are few and far between," said Spence. "So it's difficult. They'll probably have to leave to find work or commute back and forth."

New company a possibility

The mayor of Powell River, Dave Formosa, said it was a very sad day for the city.

"My father worked at that mill. I worked at that mill. My brothers worked in that mill. My uncles all worked in that mill when they immigrated from Malta," said Formosa on CBC's On The Island.

"It's sad. Very sad."

However Formosa said he was optimistic that a replacement would be found for the site — noting the town has power, water, a deep-sea port, and buildings that can be retrofitted. A promising candidate has emerged in Renewable Hydrogen Canada, he said.

"We're excited for that. We know the province has been working hard with this group and so has Catalyst," said Formosa.

"If things could move along swiftly, we might be able to keep some of these folks here in Powell River."

For Spence, any opportunity would be welcomed by his members — but he has yet to hear anything concrete.

"The people in Powell River are resilient. We'll make any product they want. The people want to stay here and work and if there's an opportunity to make a new product in a new company, we're all in favour of that," he said.

"But to be honest, we have not had any discussions with anybody about that. I'm hopeful that it's the truth but you never know until you actually find out."

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