Sunday, September 21, 2008

Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources denies access to briefing note regarding Domtar and Prince Albert pulp mill


“A vote for Darryl is a vote for the mill open.”
– Sask. Party Prince Albert Carlton candidate Darryl Hickie 2007 campaign sign

“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”.”
– Darryl Hickie, The Prince Albert Daily Herald, Nov. 3, 2007
The Saskatchewan Party government has once again chosen to withhold information from the public. This time it’s about Domtar and the Prince Albert pulp mill.

An access to information request dated Aug. 21, 2008, was submitted to the Ministry of Energy and Resources for copies of any briefing notes between June 1, 2008 and July 11, 2008 regarding the province’s discussions with Domtar concerning the Prince Albert pulp mill. The ministry received the request on Aug. 25, 2008.

In its September 4, 2008, response the ministry’s manager of contract and legislative services said that “While one record was found, access to the record you requested is denied pursuant to sections 16(1)(a)(c)(d)(i); 17(a)(b)(c)(g); 18(1)(d)(e)(f); and 19(1)(b)(c)(i)(ii)(iii) of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (the Act). The reasons for refusal of this record are provided below:
Section 16(1)(a) – if released, would disclose a confidence of the Executive Council, including; records created to present advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options to the Executive Council or any of its committees;

Section 16(1)(c) – if released, would disclose records of consultations among members of the Executive Council on matters that relate to the making of government decisions or the formulation of government policy, or records that reflect those consultations;

Section 16(1)(d)(i) – if released, would disclose records that contain briefings to members of the Executive Council in relation to matters that are before, or are proposed to be brought before, the Executive Council or any of its committees;

Section 17(1)(a) – if released, would disclose advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for a government institution or a member of the Executive Council;

Section 17(1)(b) – if released, would disclose consultations or deliberations involving officers or employees of a government institution, a member of the Executive Council, or the staff of a member of the Executive Council;

Section 17(1)(c) – if released, would disclose positions, plans, procedures, criteria or instructions developed for the purpose of contractual or other negotiations by or on behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution, or considerations that relate to those negotiations;

Section 17(1)(g) – if released, would disclose information, including the proposed plans, policies or projects of a government institution, the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to result in disclosure of a pending policy or budgetary decision;

Section 18(1)(d) – if released, would disclose information which could reasonably be expected to interfere with contractual or other negotiations of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution;

Section 18(1)(e) – if released, would disclose positions, plans, procedures, criteria or instructions developed for the purpose of contractual or other negotiations by or on behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution, or considerations that relate to those negotiations;

Section 18(1)(f) – if released, would disclose information which could reasonably be expected to prejudice the economic interest of the Government of Saskatchewan or a government institution;

Section 19(1)(b) – if released, would provide financial, commercial, scientific, technical or labour relations information that is supplied in confidence, implicitly or explicitly, to a government institution by a third party; and,

Section 19(1)(c)(i)(ii)(iii) – if released, would provide information that could reasonably be expected to: result in financial loss or gain, prejudice the competitive position or interfere with the contractual or other negotiations of a third party.”
Seven of the twelve sections cited by the ministry are discretionary exemptions.

On Nov. 30, 2007, three weeks after the provincial election, the new Saskatchewan Party government cancelled the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Domtar signed on Sept. 12, 2007 by the former NDP government because it included direct government investment.

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

“Our goals are to get the employees of the Prince Albert pulp mill and Domtar’s other mills back to work as soon as possible and to ensure that we use our forest resource to its full potential,” [Energy and Resources Minister Bill] Boyd said.

Prince Albert Mayor Jim Scarrow said the new government appeared to have acted hastily in its decision.

He said there should have been face-to-face discussions between the government and Domtar before the deal was scrapped because of the importance of the mill to the provincial forestry industry, and the importance of forestry to Saskatchewan.

“There’s not a lot of players like Domtar and not many folks shopping for pulp mills right now,” he said.

The mill was shut down by Weyerhaeuser in 2006, putting about 700 people out of work. Domtar, which merged with Weyerhaeuser’s fine paper operations, acquired the plant in March 2007. [Gov’t axes deal with Domtar; Prince Albert pulp mill unlikely to be reopened (StarPhoenix, Dec. 1, 2007)]

During the 2007 provincial election Darryl Hickie, the Saskatchewan Party candidate for Prince Albert Carlton, told voters on the doorstep that “a vote for Darryl Hickie is a vote to open the mill.” [Hickie vows to work for mill deal (StarPhoenix, Dec. 5, 2007)]

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

On Oct. 18, 2007, Wall told a cheering crowd at Hickie’s campaign office that the reopening of the pulp mill “will be among the top priorities” of a Saskatchewan Party government.[Mill reopening a priority: Wall (P.A. Daily Herald, Oct. 19, 2007)]

Later, in a question and answer exercise with The Daily Herald, Hickie was asked ‘What is your greatest hope for the PA Carlton riding and for the province?’

“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”,” Hickie responded. [Learn more about candidates running in the Prince Albert area (P.A. Daily Herald, Nov. 3, 2007)]

No sooner did the Saskatchewan Party win the election then they began to back peddle.

Following the first question period in the legislature after the Nov. 7 provincial election Premier Brad Wall told reporters that Hickie’s campaign slogan was not a campaign promise or a guarantee the mill would reopen during the four-year term of government. [P.A. pulp mill dominates first question period (StarPhoenix, Dec. 12, 2007)]

More that ten months has passed since the election and the Wall government appears no closer to getting the mill open. Face to face meetings have been sporadic with little comment afterward.

On Jan. 24, 2008, Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd met with Domtar vice-president Patrick Loulou, his first face-to-face meeting with a representative of the company on the fate of the closed pulp mill.

Boyd was tight- lipped following, but did characterize the talks as “constructive” and “productive.”

He told reporters he and Loulou agreed to a further meeting in 30 days.

Loulou did not meet with reporters. Domtar said it would not comment on the meeting. [Gov’t mum after P.A. mill meeting (StarPhoenix, Jan. 25, 2008)]

On Feb. 28, 2008, Boyd met with Loulou in Regina.

The Saskatchewan Party government presented a proposal to Domtar to get the closed Prince Albert Pulp Mill up and operating again.

Boyd said the proposal involved the previously discussed areas of infrastructure and power co-generation, but he would provide no details to reporters at the legislature.

“There has been some progress . . . we’re encouraged by what we’re hearing,” Boyd said following the meeting. “We’ve put forward a proposal that they are going to evaluate and get back to us and we’re optimistic.”

Loulou did not speak with reporters and Domtar’s spokesperson in Montreal said the company would not comment.

Boyd would not comment on the potential cost to the government around infrastructure and co-generation. [Province makes offer to Domtar on reopening P.A. mill (StarPhoenix, Feb. 29, 2008)]

On Mar. 14, 2008, Domtar responded to the provincial government’s proposal for the reopening of the Prince Albert Pulp Mill with a counterproposal.

“We’ll be looking at that very seriously and we’ll be making decisions with respect to that very soon,” Boyd said in the legislature on Mar. 18, 2008, in response to questions from the NDP.

Boyd said in an interview there is no timetable for getting the mill reopened. The government plans to meet again with the company soon although the date hasn’t been set, the minister said. [Domtar has proposal for Prince Albert Pulp Mill (Leader-Post, Mar. 18, 2008)]

Two months later, on May 12, 2008, Boyd told StarPhoenix reporter James Wood that the provincial government and Domtar were still talking.

Boyd said he spoke recently with company vice-president Patrick Loulou and a face-to-face meeting will likely be held in early June.

“There are ongoing discussions,” he said in a telephone interview after the NDP raised the issue in question period.

Boyd said he was limited in what he could say because of shareholder issues for Montreal-based Domtar. [Gov’t, Domtar still talking: Boyd (StarPhoenix, May 13, 2008)]

Nearly two more months went by before it was reported that Boyd had met with Domtar officials on July 9, 2008, in Regina, including, for the first time face-to-face, Domtar president and chief executive officer Raymond Royer.

“All of the issues that are important to both sides have been discussed and clarified and ... we’re at the point now where both sides need to make decisions,” Boyd said in an interview.

Boyd said talks will continue as long as they are productive and there is “no definitive timeline” for a decision.

“I think there’s an understanding that both sides see this as wanting it to be resolved fairly soon,” he said.

Domtar spokesperson Michel Rathier described the talks as “constructive.”

“Both parties are looking for a viable solution here and we’re going to pursue the work that we’ve started,” he said from Montreal.

Boyd said Royer’s presence at the meeting may indicate the company is closer to a decision on the mill but noted that the CEO had had health issues that may have prevented his earlier involvement. [Decision time nigh for pulp mill’s future (Leader-Post, July 10, 2008)]

Wall stopped in Prince Albert on Aug. 12, 2008, on his way to a Saskatchewan Party caucus retreat in Waskesiu and told The Daily Herald that the government still wants to see both the pulp mill and saw mill reopen.

“The discussions (with Domtar) are continuing,” said Wall.

“Domtar has indicated an interest in a co-managed agreement,” he said.

“I think people are optimistic talks are happening.” [Talks with Domtar continuing: premier (P.A. Daily Herald, Aug. 13, 2008)]

Domtar spokesperson, Michel Rathier, says the company encourages a co-management plan, noting similar arrangements have been made with other provinces.

“We are supportive of this type of approach because it provides greater involvement for all parties that are interested in the forest. That can include First Nations, independent operators, other business interest in general.”

Exactly when a co-management plan would come into play is difficult to determine, energy and resources minister Bill Boyd says, but “It’s safe to say there will be a co-managed [forest management area] FMA in Prince Albert in the near future.”

But as Rathier says, “Managing the FMA is one thing, opening the pulp mill is another thing all together.”

He points out the various uses of the lumber must be decided through the FMA before any decisions are made for the Prince Albert facility, or any other pulp mill.

“I would assume right now that it’s much too early in the process to envisage what the resource will be used for.” [Timber rights left in limbo (StarPhoenix, Aug. 27, 2008)]

In an interview with James Wood on Sept. 12, 2008, Boyd described continuing discussions with Domtar as “productive.”

Boyd said the sheer size of the investment required to put the mill in the top quarter of operations in North America -- a requirement by Domtar to reopen the mill -- is one of the factors that can’t be rushed.

Boyd reaffirmed the government will not put any money toward that process, which was called for in the memorandum of understanding.

“Our time frame is this: As long as we feel that we are not losing ground, as long as we feel there is still the potential for a positive resolution to this, productive, constructive negotiations, we will continue. We don’t want to cut short just because there is some sort of arbitrary time frame put in place,” he said.

Domtar spokesperson Michel Rathier said the company is still working with the government.

“The restart, in this case, of a pulp mill does require and would require a massive investment. Whenever you have that kind of massive investment required, things have got to take time,” he said from Montreal.

Rathier acknowledged not having work in the mill during the winter would be a concern because of the impact on infrastructure. [Talks with Domtar ‘productive’: Boyd (StarPhoenix, Sept. 13, 2008)]

The tone of Rathier’s comments doesn’t instill much confidence.

Corrections, Public Safety and Policing Minister Darryl Hickie said a vote for him was a vote for the mill open and Premier Brad Wall said he’d “move heaven and earth” to get it done. Anything short of that would be a broken promise to the people of Prince Albert.

1 Comments:

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Eric said...

I no longer live in Prince Albert but from what I've heard a lot of the machinery inside the Mill has been shipped out. Trucks came in covered all the machinery and shipped it out. The Pulp and Paper I'm willing to bet is never going to open again.

 

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