December 19, 2005
(Innovation, Trade and Rural Development)

Details of task force on impact of Abitibi closure released

(Stephenville) � The provincial government today released details of a task force established to address the impact the closure of Abitibi Consolidated�s Stephenville mill will have on the Bay St. George area.

"Over the past two years government has worked tirelessly with Abitibi Consolidated and stakeholders in the Bay St. George region to find a solution to the challenges facing the operation in Stephenville, and we are extremely disappointed with the company�s decision to permanently close the mill," said Kathy Dunderdale, Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development and Minister responsible for the Rural Secretariat. "We must now move on and put our full effort toward helping the people of the Bay St. George region build for the future. Today, we are announcing the details of a task force that will help address the impacts the closure of the mill will have on the region."

The task force will be led by a Ministerial Committee, which will oversee an Interdepartmental Committee and a Community Development Committee. This structure will ensure there is engagement at the ground level, with senior officials, right through to Cabinet. The task force will oversee all aspects of a development and diversification strategy to respond to the impact the closure of the mill will have on the region.

Specifically, the task force will:

  • work with communities to identify and implement economic opportunities for the short and long term;
  • work to attract investment that will help diversify the industrial base of the region;
  • look at other options for the use of the mill; and
  • identify and implement appropriate responses to the human resource needs of workers directly affected by the closure of the mill.

Minister Dunderdale said government is already working on several diversification opportunities, including those in the agrifoods and small scale manufacturing sectors. "We�ve already identified several opportunities, and are working with businesses and organizations in the area to develop them further. There are some very real prospects in the area and we intend to work with the communities to develop economic alternatives and long-term strategies to help ensure the continued viability of the Bay St. George region," said the minister. "This region has many strengths that we will build upon. The region has good infrastructure in the port and airport, a well-trained work force, the tourism sector in the region is growing to become a year-round industry, just to name a few. Through the task force, we�ll market those assets and identify opportunities that build on those strengths and that help to generate employment for people in the area."

The Ministerial Committee will be chaired by Minister Dunderdale. Other members are: Natural Resources Minister Ed Byrne; Education Minister Joan Burke; Human Resources, Labour and Employment Minister Paul Shelley; and Municipal Affairs Minister Jack Byrne. The Ministerial Committee will guide the operations of the interdepartmental and community development committees, and oversee implementation of actions taken by government and initiatives identified by the Community Development Committee.

The Community Development Committee will include representatives from the region and relevant line departments at the regional level. This committee will lead the short and longer term sector and project identification, thereby generating employment opportunities. The committee will also identify economic issues and priorities, and policy and program funding challenges and communicate those to the larger task force. The Community Development Committee will be chaired by Cyril Organ, who is seconded to the task force committee from the College of the North Atlantic where he has worked as an administrator and director for several years. In these roles, Mr. Organ has demonstrated an ability to develop programs and relationships beneficial to the college and the province on an international scale. His experience also exhibits a keen understanding of current labour market demands and challenges and how these are best addressed.

The Interdepartmental Committee will consist of senior officials from the departments of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development; Human Resources, Labour and Employment; Natural Resources; Justice; Business; Education; Transportation and Works; Municipal Affairs; and Environment and Conservation.

The primary objective of the interdepartmental and community development committees is to develop and implement strategies to respond to the impact of the mill closure. The committees will work together and report to and receive direction from the Ministerial Committee.

Joan Burke, MHA for St. George's-Stephenville East and Minister of Education, said she is encouraged by the planning that has already taken place to assist the region. "During this very difficult time, I have been inspired by the courage and faith people have demonstrated as well as a heart-felt belief that we will meet this challenge head on. The task force is designed to ensure the people of our region have a voice in building our future and I am proud to be able to represent your interests in the months ahead."

"While the closure of the mill is a blow to the regional economy, the people of Bay St. George are strong and resilient. We�ve faced challenges in the past and were successful, and I know we will do the same in this situation," said Port au Port MHA Jim Hodder. "The people of the Bay St. George region must now work together with government to identify opportunities that will build a more diversified economy and create jobs for the people of the region."

"Through the task force, we will be able to move quickly to identify opportunities for economic diversification and investment attraction," said Minister Dunderdale. "As we have done so far, we will work in partnership with those affected by this situation to find ways to address the short and long term challenges caused by the closure of the mill. This will not be an overnight solution. This process will take some time if we are to develop a diversified and sustainable economic base for the area, but I am confident that through this process, and with a shared vision, we will find a solution."

Minister Dunderdale said government recognizes the Stephenville mill closure is having a direct impact on the forestry industry in Labrador and government continues to work with the industry there to find other markets for its product. Additionally, government has commissioned a study to identify opportunities to value-add to the Labrador forestry sector which is expected to be completed in the very near future.

Media contact: Lynn Evans, Communications, (709) 729-4570, 690-6290

2005 12 19                        12:20 p.m.

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