Canadian Manufacturing

Tolko Industries to shut mill in northern Manitoba town of The Pas, lay off 332

With the company directly employing several hundred of the town's 5,500 people, closure could threaten economic future of "entire region," MLA says



PHOTO: Tolko

Bought by Tolko in 1997, the northern Manitoba site was originally built in the 1960s. PHOTO: Tolko

THE PAS, Man.—The largest employer in the northern Manitoba town of The Pas says it will shut down in December.

Forest products company Tolko Industries has given notice to 332 workers, saying that despite years of trying to improve results, the business is not “financially sustainable.”

The company’s CEO Brad Thorlakson said in an Aug. 22 statement that Tolko did not make the decision lightly, but it is in the best long-term interest of the company and employees.

The Pas Mayor Jim Scott says the company didn’t give him any indication that it was in financial trouble.

Scott says he and council will discuss solutions which may include making a request to the Manitoba government for funding.

“It’s been a struggle here for a number of years, but every indication that we had was that they continued to make the best paper in the world,” Scott said by phone Aug. 22.

Scott said he believes the company may have had trouble securing transportation for its products.

“I think we’re going to hear they had trouble getting goods from the mill site to the customer,” said Scott, who added that getting space allotted on rail cars has always been a challenge.

Thorlakson said the decision to close down Dec. 2 in no way reflects on workers, the community or local and provincial governments.

“Over the 19 years we have been in the community, a great deal of work has been done, both internally and externally, to improve the mill’s competitive position,” he said.

“We understand that this will be a very difficult time for (workers) and the community, but we cannot continue to sustain the losses at the operation.”

Tolko bought the Manitoba Kraft Paper and Sawmill Operations in 1997.

Amanda Lathlin, the area’s NDP member of the legislature, said the closure will devastate the local economy.

“We urge the (Premier Brian) Pallister government to act immediately to prevent a crisis in The Pas,” Lathlin said. “The closure of the mills will be incredibly stressful for families, who will have a tough time making ends meet without a regular income. It will also hurt many other local businesses and undermine the economic future of the entire region.”

Private railroad company Omnitrax, another large northern employer, announced last month that there will be no grain shipments from the Port of Churchill on Hudson Bay this year. The port has employed about 10 per cent of the small town’s 800 people during seasonal operations. Omnitrax has not given a reason for the decision.

The MP for The Pas called on Ottawa to step in along with the provincial government.

“This coupled with the closure of the Port of Churchill is further devastating to our North,” said NDP MP Niki Ashton. “We have a federal government that says it cares about job creation and sits by while the North bleeds jobs.

“We have a provincial government that is betraying the North. It’s time to change course.”

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