PROFILE PHOTO COURTESY OF KIMBERLEY KUFAAS PHOTOGRAPHY Tyson’s Thoughts is a weekly column posted every Thursday at northislandgazette.com and in print the following Wednesday. Have some thoughts about my thoughts? email editor@northislandgazette.com.

Tyson’s Thoughts: Requiem for the Neucel Specialty Cellulose pulp mill in Port Alice

Despite the pulp mill looking like it’s closed down for good, Port Alice will no doubt survive.

I’m really proud of last week’s paper, I feel it was some of my best work yet and I aim to keep producing at the same level while still understaffed.

Oh, hello. I forgot to say I’m back with some more thoughts this week, as per usual. I’ve got some tough things I’d like to say in this edition so fasten your seatbelt and get ready, because I’m going to be firing point blank at Neucel Specialty Cellulose.

Here we go, time to unload a clip or two.

The longstanding Port Alice pulp mill (over 100 years old in fact), which is currently owned and operated by the Canadian arm of a Chinese company called Fulida, has apparently waved the white flag by sending its last 12 employees home.

According to 514 Union President Don Vye, the news came out of nowhere on Feb. 27, as he had spoken with Warren Beatty, HR Manager for the pulp mill, in the morning and nothing was mentioned.

To be fair to Warren and the company, I don’t think it was really much of a surprise to anyone who has been following the curtailment story since the very beginning in 2015.

I did get a few laughs out of the grandiose/overblown way certain online media journalists, who don’t live in the North Island by the way, covered the story without even bothering to talk to the union. They didn’t even report how many people had been laid off, which you’d think would be one of the first things to ask as it’s kind of an important detail.

On the other hand, there was some great reporting done by CTV and the Times Colonist.

Jack Knox once again produced some really great commentary on the pulp mill, mainly because he knows his stuff after following the story for a long time. Shocking I know, but it does pay to do your homework as a journalist.

Anyways, let’s get back to the pulp mill and talk rumours.

There was some news floating around town a couple weeks ago that one of the backers who was planning to help bankroll the pulp mill’s restart had pulled out of the deal at the very last minute, but that was just a rumour and no one was willing to go on record and comment on it so I wasn’t comfortable reporting it as fact.

That said, if it was just a rumour, could the issue then be what Port Alice Mayor Kevin Cameron stated it was? That the Chinese company Fulida isn’t in favour of doing business here at the moment due to political issues?

That could very well be true, or it could possibly be a smoke and mirrors excuse the company used to quickly pull the plug so they could be done with the whole thing after funding fell through.

Regardless of the reason why the company has allegedly backed out of restarting production, I feel for the five union employees who were laid off yet are still considered employees until their recall rights expire.

The union was the backbone of that pulp mill for ages, and it’s a shame to see only five people left wondering if they will be paid severance or not. At the time the mill went down in 2015, there were 320 union employees on payroll. I’d wager a good amount of them never saw a dime in severance thanks to it being called a curtailment instead of a shutdown, which is heartbreaking to think about.

A good friend of mine worked for that company for around 10 years, and all he got at the end instead of a payout was a request from HR to return his coveralls and a termination notice.

When I talked to Vye on the phone about the final lay-offs, he said back on Dec. 5 the company had started talks with the union about the collective agreement. Vye noted the union was willing to work with the company, but he said what they needed was for the company “to put things in place to call people back to work to get things ready to run again.”

He added ever since then, Neucel/Fulida had “basically done everything contrary to that.”

On that note, I have attempted to contact numerous people from the company to speak on the issues at hand, but none of my calls were returned.

Anyways, despite the pulp mill looking like it’s definitely closed down for good, Port Alice will no doubt survive. The village may look different and have a few less services, but it’s not a ghost town and never will be.

Tyson Whitney is an award-winning journalist who was born and raised in Port Hardy. His family has lived in Port Hardy for more than 40 years. He graduated with a degree in writing from Vancouver Island University in 2008. Email: editor@northislandgazette.com

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