Unifor’s campaign to defend Northern Pulp mill jobs in Nova Scotia

northern pulp view

A January 8 general news release, “Nova Scotian forestry workers already struggling as Northern Pulp prepares to close ” summarizes the union’s position in a quote from Atlantic Region Director Linda MacNeil: ““We all agreed Boat Harbour had to close. That closure did not have to come at the cost of thousands of rural jobs ­­– there was a solution for the mill to coexist, but there was no political will from McNeil to make it happen …. Our members and other forestry workers are not the ones responsible for any wrong-doing here. … They deserve better than to be blamed and sacrificed due to the government’s lack of leadership, consultation or clear regulatory expectations.”

The context:

The “years of controversy” over the Northern Pulp mill is summarized in a Backgrounder  in the Halifax Chronicle Herald on December 10 2019, published just before the government of Nova Scotia announced that it would enforce a 2015 law which would require the mill to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour.  Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill,  stated almost immediately  that it would close the mill, but apparently the years of controversy are not over yet.  As reported on January 9 in “NS effluent dumping mill to move ahead with environmental process” in the National Observer , Paper Excellence has issued a new statement: “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.”

Unifor’s role in the controversy: 

Unifor represents approximately 230 workers at the  mill and has been actively engaged in advocating to protect its members’ jobs by allowing the mill owners, Excellence Paper, to improve the environmental performance of the mill by building a new effluent treatment plant. Unifor’s Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign  includes “Why Mill Jobs Matter” as a summary;  in early 2019, the union commissioned  a detailed economic impact study by consultants Gardner Pinfold which makes the case for the “keystone” importance of the mill in the region, profiling major businesses from the supply chain of  1,379 companies associated with the mill operation,  and estimating that the mill accounts for approximately 2,679 full-time equivalent jobs, earning approximately $128 million annually.  (Note that Gardner Pinfold completed an earlier economic impact study  for the industry group, Forest Nova Scotia, in 2016).

An ongoing series of Updates chronicle how Unifor has participated in the provincial environmental assessment process and in direct advocacy for their membership.  The January 3 update  reports to members on interactions with government, stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

The update also states:  “Premier McNeil announced a $50 million transition fund for forestry workers that was of particular interest during the meeting, especially since the fund was never mentioned to the union, or anyone else, prior to his December 20 decision.”

Work and Climate Change Report has summarized the $50 million  Forestry Transition Fund here.

Further documentation: The March 2019 submission of Unifor Atlantic Region to the provincial Environmental Assessment process is here , included in a compilation of all submissions ; comments by Unifor’s National Office to the environmental assessment process in October 2019 appears here (around page 14).

 

northern pulp view

$50 million Forestry Transition Fund to retrain and support workers following closure of Nova Scotia’s polluting Northern Pulp plant – Updated

This blog has been updated on January 10 to reflect the company announcement that a new environmental assessment process may yet keep the mill alive. It also expands on Unifor’s position in supporting the mill and the opposition by environmental groups and First Nations. 

After years of controversy, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced on December 20 that the province will enforce a January 31 2020 deadline for B.C.-owned Northern Pulp plant to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour, near Pictou Landing First Nation.  The deadline had been set by legislation in 2015, and will not be extended, despite the company’s threat to shut down the mill.  Acknowledging the job loss and economic hardship which will result from the decision, the Premier’s announcement  included a $50-million transition fund for forestry sector workers and businesses “to support displaced workers across the province, small contractors and all those whose livelihoods will be affected. The transition fund will be used for retraining and education, and for emergency funding to help those in immediate need.” On January 3, the Premier’s Office announced the composition of the Forestry Transition Team. A previous announcement had designated the provincial deputy minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Trade as the team lead; members announced on January 3 include more government representatives as well as industry management – noticeably absent, any worker representation.

After the first meeting of the Forestry Transition Team,CBC reports that the government has  fired an industry member. The Premier has announced  $7 million to assist silviculture and forest road building operations  in the central and western regions of the province .  The January 10 article in the National Observer also states that the Premier  is working to ensure the stability and accessibility  of the mill’s pension plan .

Company enters new environmental assessment process which may yet keep the mill alive

On  January 10 , an article in the National Observer   reported on a statement by Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill:   … “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.” Plant closure has been at least temporarily averted as the company has informed the government that it will continue the environmental assessment process for its proposed effluent treatment plant.  In response,  the Nova Scotia Environment Ministry released draft Terms of Reference for that assessment on January 8, giving the public and government reviewers 30 days to comment on the draft.  Following a period for company response, the terms of reference will be provided  by early April, and the company will be given another two years to complete the environmental assessment report.  The government  webpage dedicated to the environmental assessment is here , providing the new draft terms of reference, how to make a submission, and an archive of past documentation in this long-running project.

Opposing viewpoints in a long controversy

The Halifax Chronicle Herald has published many articles describing the long history and competing interests in this dispute, for example in a Timeline of the dispute ; “Nova Scotia sticks to Boat Harbour deadline; Northern Pulp confirms shutdown”;  and “Northern Pulp mill will close without extension to Boat Harbour Act, company says” (Dec. 19).

Unifor, which represents 230 workers at Northern Pulp in Local 444 , has maintained an  ongoing  Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign , described in  WCR’s separate blog postAfter the government’s December 20 announcement, the union issued a press release, “Premier McNeil throws away 2,700 rural jobs in Nova Scotia” . Another press release on  January 3  is more detailed, reporting to members on subsequent interactions with government, and stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

boat harbour rallyIn contast to Unifor’s support for the company’s proposal for an alternate effluent treatment plant, which was rejected in a provincial environmental assessment on December 17, it had been  widely opposed – by the Pictou Landing First Nation, as well as fishermen’s associations from all three Maritime provinces , tourism operators, cottagers, boaters and others whose livelihoods would be affected by the proposed dumping of treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

Environmental advocacy and First Nations groups also oppose the mill. “Northern Pulp decision validates rights, First Nations lawyer says”  summarizes the position of the Pictou Landing First Nations and praises the Premier’s courage in “righting an injustice spanning five decades.”  And while acknowledging the hardship ahead for forestry workers, the Ecology Action Centre of Nova Scotia calls the decision “courageous” and “forward-thinking”, saying : “For the first time in Nova Scotia’s history, a government has said no to a pulp mill’s coercive demands in defence of environmental protection, Indigenous rights and human health. It is a watershed moment — a turn away from the old ways of allowing mass extraction and the pollution of the air, land and water. This decision could mark the start of a new, cleaner future and a livable planet for our descendants.”

Recommendations for Canada’s high growth industries, including natural resources and clean technology

Innovation report 2018On September 25, the federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development released a report:  The Innovation and Competitiveness Imperative: Seizing Opportunities for Growth,  with over-arching “signature” proposals in the consolidated report, and specific proposals in individual reports by six “high-growth potential” sectors: advanced manufacturing  , agri-food , clean technology , digital industries,  health and biosciences  , and resources of the future  .  These six groups had been identified by the Advisory Council for Economic Growth  , a body which has issued many of its own reports, including the 2017 reports,  The Path to Prosperity   and Learning Nation: Equipping Canada’s workforce with skills for the future   .

In this latest series of reports, the identified Sector groups were led by  “Economic Strategy Tables— which the government characterizes as “a new model for industry-government collaboration”.   Each “Table” consisted of a  Chair,  and approximately 15 industry experts, with consultants McKinsey & Company providing “fact-based research and analysis”.  The reports are unmistakably written by management/industry authors (replete with many references to “agility”,  “own the podium” and “sandboxes”). A deeper dive into two of the sector reports reveals very substantial recommendations, with common themes of best practice examples from other countries, Canada’s international competitiveness, Indigenous relationships, and  attention to workforce issues of skills gaps and diversity.

The Clean Technology Economic Table Report  proposes: “the ambitious, export-focused target of clean technology becoming one of Canada’s top five exporting industries, nearly tripling the sector’s current value for exports to $20 billion annually by 2025” –  a growth rate  of 11.4% per year on average.  The report makes recommendations under six categories, including financing, engagement  with Indigenous communities in partnership and co-development of clean technology initiatives, increased government procurement, regulation, and workforce issues. Greatest attention is given to the regulatory environment, with proposals for a “Regulatory Sandbox for Water Regulation” and a “Regulatory Sandbox for air quality and methane emissions regulation”.    “Ultimately, we will need as much innovation in our public policy tools as there is in technology to ensure progress on critical economic and environmental objectives.”  Regarding  workforce issues, the report recognizes that Clean Technology will compete for Scientific, Technology,  Engineering and Math ( STEM) skills, but highlights a particular shortage of soft skills required for entrepreneurship, business development, finance, advocacy, risk management and forecasting. It calls  for “work-integrated learning programs”, and better labour market data collection and dissemination. Without ever using the term “Just Transition”, it does call for “Opening streams of these programs for workers to re-skill”, and “Adding new eligibility criteria for these programs to promote an inclusive and diverse workforce”.

resources of the future coverThe  “Resources of the future” Table Report  examines the mining, forestry and energy industries; the tone is set in the introductory remarks which state: “While resource companies are committed to the highest environmental and safety performance, they are burdened with an inefficient and complex regulatory system that adds cost, delays projects and is not conducive to innovation.” Recommendations are set out in five thematic sections, including “agile regulations, strategic infrastructure, innovation for competitiveness, indigenous people and communities, and attracting and re-skilling talent.

The report notes the established issues of an aging and gender-biased workforce in natural resources and identifies automation and digital skills as a neglected and misunderstood  issue in the industry.  It proposes a “Resources Skills Council” which, notably,  would include labour unions, along with all levels of government, industry associations, universities and polytechnics.

Workforce implications of innovation in Canada’s Forest Sector

On May 4th, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources  released its report,    Value-added products in Canada’s forest sector : cultivating innovation for a competitve bioeconomy . The report  is the latest discussion of  advancing Canadian value-added forest products and a forest-sourced bioeconomy, and addresses five themes: (1) protecting Canadian forests and primary resources (which recognizes the threats of climate change and beetle infestation); (2) advancing industrial integration, innovation and talent development; (3) strengthening partnerships with Indigenous peoples; (4) maximizing market opportunities in Canada and abroad; and (5) a case study on building with wood, with a focus on advanced mass timber construction.

Discussion of the issue of training and talent development (beginning on page 18), calls for  more internships and employment opportunities for engineering and science students and highly trained post-graduates;  the need to develop a well-educated forest-sector workforce in rural areas; and the need for diversity and gender equity.  Employment implications are present in the discussion of wood-based construction of homes, where witnesses talk about transforming wood construction from a craft-based industry to a more mainstream manufacturing process, where “prefabrication in a factory environment would make wood construction more cost competitive and less wasteful, with greater potential for automation, customization and design accuracy.” The report also provides a case study of two Canadian examples of “tall wood buildings”: including Brock Commons, a new 18-storey student residence at the University of British Columbia , and Origine, a 13-storey building in Quebec City’s Pointe-auxLièvres eco-district.

The United Steelworkers , who represent over 18,000 forestry workers after their 2004 merger with the  Industrial, Wood and Allied Workers of Canada (IWA), presented a Brief to the Committee in November 2017.  The Brief identifies  the main challenges facing the sector, as low harvest volumes, insufficient infrastructure funding, and decreasing raw log exports, and concludes  that, although it’s a provincial jurisdiction,  “The Steelworkers submit that Canada needs a national forestry strategy that recognizes while the challenges within the lumber, pulp, paper, or value added sector are unique, … the whole sector is highly integrated, and dependent on each facet of the sector succeeding. “  The Brief also states  “The costs that the industry as a whole faces will further increase with the federal government’s plan to roll out a $50/tonne price on carbon by 2022. This new carbon pricing regime will not only risk further impacting tight margins in regions like Ontario, but also risks leading to carbon leakage. Canadian companies are now operating in the southern USA which does not have a carbon pricing regime.”

Unifor, which represents approximately 24,000 forest workers, also issued a report (not submitted to the Committee)  in October 2017:  The Future of Forestry: A Workers Perspective for Successful, Sustainable and Just Forestry .  A key message from Unifor is the need to involve workers in a in  a national  policy-making process: “forestry ministers must lead efforts to bring together business, government, labour, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and community leaders in a reinstated National Forestry Council.”  Also on this topic, a 2017 report by the Innovation Committee of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers,  A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada . 

Unifor, Government visions for Sustainable Forestry

The Future of Forestry: A Workers Perspective for Successful, Sustainable and Just Forestry was released on October 16 by Unifor’s Forestry Industry Council, representing the union’s 24,000 members in the forestry sector.  The report provides an overview of the size and health of the forestry industry, and after the past several years of declining employment, asks, “What could lie ahead?” The answer given:  “Technologies that put forestry resources to uses never previously imagined; transformative innovations in building materials and green construction, and a sustained transition toward higher-value growth products and markets. There is also a coming wave of retirements that means the industry could need upward of 60,000 new workers within the decade.”

The report sets out Unifor’s aims for each of five focal points in an integrated forestry policy, involving the federal and provincial governments and prioritizing the role of First Nations.  The report calls for “ sustainable rules for wood harvesting that secure investments and jobs while meeting the highest environmental standards. There must be stable and appropriately priced hydro-electricity; as well, transportation infrastructure, pricing and access need to be modernized. Trade policies need to support high-value forestry exports, maintain stable access to key markets, while ensuring we are not the target of unfair trade measures. And we need to control the export of unprocessed raw logs.”  A key message is the need to involve workers in a sustained dialogue for  policy-making process: “forestry ministers must lead efforts to bring together business, government, labour, Indigenous leaders, environmental organizations and community leaders in a reinstated National Forestry Council.”

Related reading: In mid-September, Natural Resources Canada released the 2017 edition of The State of Canada’s Forests Annual Report and L’État des forêts au Canada.

At the September annual meeting of the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers (CCFM), their Innovation Committee released A Forest Bioeconomy Framework for Canada , with the vision to make Canada “a global leader in the use of forest bio-mass for advanced bioproducts and innovative solutions” including as a source of renewable energy.   Note the first of the 4 pillars of the framework: “Communities and Relationships. This section in the Framework advances policies towards  “creating green jobs, offering opportunities for rural communities through education and skills training, improving overall quality of life, and enhancing partnerships with Indigenous peoples.”

Also at the Canadian Council of Forest Ministers annual meeting, the Minister of Natural Resources announced a call for proposals   for the next wave of projects through the Investments in Forest Industry Transformation (IFIT) program, a federal grant program to encourage :

  • new or increased production of bioenergy, biomaterials, biochemicals and next-generation building products by the forest sector;
  • increased deployment and encouraging broader adoption of first-in-kind innovative technologies, particularly Canadian, across the industry; and
  • the creation of innovative partnerships with non-traditional forest sector partners as a way to develop new business models for the sector.