Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sask. Party Prince Albert Carlton MLA Darryl Hickie back-peddles on pulp mill election promise; issue referred to flawed Enterprise Saskatchewan


“A vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open.”
– Darryl Hickie 2007 campaign sign
Darryl Hickie was sworn in as the Saskatchewan Party MLA for Prince Albert Carlton on Dec. 4, 2007, and is the new Minister of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing. With the ink barely dry on his appointment a sense of betrayal among some in the community appears to be setting in.

During the 2007 provincial election Hickie allegedly made promises concerning the Prince Albert Pulp Mill.

According to Wall says ‘spirit’ in deal to reopen Sask mill stands even after money pulled (Canadian Press, Dec. 4, 2007) Hickie’s campaign signs read “a vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open.”

In Hickie vows to work for mill deal (StarPhoenix, Dec. 5, 2007) StarPhoenix reporter James Wood said Hickie told voters on the doorstep that “a vote for Darryl Hickie is a vote to open the mill.”

Hickie now appears to be back-peddling on his promise.

On November 30, 2007, the provincial government announced that it “notified Domtar that it wants to continue discussions about the reopening of Domtar’s mills in northern Saskatchewan, but it will not proceed with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in September by the former government.”

The news release said the Government will not offer any grants, loans or equity investments to Domtar, but is prepared to discuss other options.

Following the announcement Domtar issued its own press release saying “the Government’s decision to withdraw its support narrows down Domtar’s options regarding the Prince Albert facilities.”

In New Saskatchewan gov’t pulls out of Domtar deal to reopen Prince Albert pulp mill (Canadian Press, Nov. 30, 2007) Domtar said the chances of the mill reopening now are “really diminished.”

“We had worked in good faith over the last 14 months on a very complex project and now we see this project being canned,” said Michel Rathier, a spokesman with the Montreal-based company.

“We’re disappointed by this, but was it a shock? It was not a shock.”

Saskatchewan Party Resources Minister Bill Boyd said he “did not know how much it would cost taxpayers to walk away from the deal, but said it won't be significant.”

Prince Albert Mayor Jim Scarrow said he hopes the government realizes that opening the mill in the city is about helping a whole industry, not just one facility.

“People often look at a pulp mill as a stand-alone, but it is the key to an entire forestry industry,” Scarrow said.

“This is a matter of serious consequence to our province and it need not be taken lightly.”

In Pulp mill deal killed (P.A. Daily Herald, Dec. 1, 2007) Prince Albert Carlton Sask. Party MLA Darryl Hickie called the decision “the best deal for the people of Saskatchewan”, and added the government is willing to sit down with Domtar “any time to continue the avenue of negotiations.”

Darcy Furber, the MLA for Prince Albert Northcote and NDP member questioned how the mill could be reopened without government involvement.

“What elements of the business climate are the Saskatchewan Party going to bring to the table (in discussions)?” he asked, adding he also wonders if the hands-off policy will apply in every similar situation.

Mayor Jim Scarrow said the government also needs to be proactive and not just wait for Domtar to make its own proposals for the mill.

“I want to set the table as being the past is past and let's deal with the future. ‘What can your government do that will allow you to maintain your principles and yet maintain an industry?’”

The Prince Albert Daily Herald editorial board pulled no punches in its assessment of the situation.

In the editorial Was it just lies, Brad Wall? (P.A. Daily Herald, Dec. 3, 2007) the board said “Scrapping outright the memorandum of understanding between the government and Domtar aimed at re-opening the dormant Prince Albert pulp mill pushes the newly formed government perilously close to breaking a campaign promise.

“In the middle of the recent election campaign, Brad Wall - then the leader of the Opposition and now premier - told this paper that if the Saskatchewan Party formed government that the work that went into creating the memorandum of understanding would not be lost.

“Darryl Hickie, the eventually successful Saskatchewan Party candidate for Prince Albert Carlton, repeatedly outlined an operating pulp mill as a key part of his platform.”

The editorial board said the government’s “move, timing and methodology, combined with Hickie’s comments that killing the MOU is in the best interests of Saskatchewan, are exceedingly difficult to reconcile with Saskatchewan Party campaign statements.

“It certainly seems at this moment that all the energy devoted to forging the MOU is now lost, contrary to Wall's campaign assurances otherwise.”

It went on to say “if the government does not succeed in opening the mill in a timely fashion as would have been the plan under an NDP government, opposition forces will have their first fuel for the “we-warned-you” mill.

“Hence, the government - and Hickie in particular - must prove in relatively concrete terms and in fairly short order that they are intent on finding alternate solutions with Domtar.”

On the following day in Provincial government says NDP gave P.A. ‘false hope’ (P.A. Daily Herald, Dec. 4, 2007) MLA Darryl Hickie said “I'm disappointed the NDP gave false hope to the workers at the mill.”

“It was an election ploy,” said Hickie.

Apparently Hickie’s campaign signs and promises made to residents on their doorstep during the election weren’t ploys.

In Hickie vows to work for mill deal (StarPhoenix, Dec. 5, 2007) Hickie said that voters shouldn’t necessarily turf him if the mill isn’t up and running by the time of the next election in 2011.

“It will mean that I’ve done everything possible to get the mill open. A vote for me is a vote to open the mill; however, I'm only part of one entity like I said. There is the industry, there is the union and there is the government. We’ll do the best we can from the government side to make this work.”

Too bad Hickie’s campaign signs didn’t say that.

The StarPhoenix article notes that both “Hickie and [Sask. Party Premier Brad] Wall spoke Tuesday about the possibility of new incentives for Domtar to reopen the shuttered mill based around infrastructure money and power co-generation, the latter of which was part of the memorandum of understanding.

“Domtar vice-president Michel Rathier said last week that the Sask. Party’s decision had “diminished any chances of successfully getting this pulp mill up and operating again.””

Hickie seemed to slough it off saying that it was a negotiating stance by Domtar.

According to the article Wall said the Prince Albert pulp mill issue would be referred to the Sask. Party government’s new, public-private Enterprise Saskatchewan economic development body, which is currently under construction.

Unfortunately, Enterprise Saskatchewan will have little to no credibility once it’s launched. In past speeches and in his “economic vision” The Promise of Saskatchewan, Wall made it clear that Enterprise Saskatchewan will be hostile to labour and the Crowns and will come with pre-determined outcomes built into its terms of reference.

The scheme is to be designed and implemented by former Canadian Federation of Independent Business director for Saskatchewan Dale Botting. The CFIB and Sask. Party have demonstrated that they have quite a close relationship.

Prior to the election Brad Wall said reopening of the pulp mill “will be among the top priorities” of a Saskatchewan Party government.

In Mill reopening a priority: Wall (P.A. Daily Herald, Oct. 19, 2007) Wall said with pulp prices going up, “there’s hope” for the forest industry, and he would like to sit down with mill stakeholders to get the facility open.

However, said Wall, it should not be done with funds from the public purse, but via other means such as tax incentives and private monies.

He said the memorandum of understanding signed between the province and Domtar, the mill owner, on Sept. 12 was “straight politics” on the part of the NDP.

“I can’t think of anything more cynical for a government ... to play with the hopes and dreams of the people in this community,” said Wall.

“We are not going to continue with the MOU.”

In Learn more about candidates running in the Prince Albert area (P.A. Daily Herald, Nov. 3, 2007) Hickie was asked, ‘What is your greatest hope for the PA Carlton riding and for the province?’

He responded saying, “I can assure you that reopening the Mill is a top priority for me and our Party. As Brad Wall said, when he spoke at the opening of my Committee Rooms two weeks ago, “we will move heaven and earth to open the Mill”.”

It seems both Hickie and Wall know a thing or two about cynically playing with the hopes and dreams of the people in Prince Albert too.

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