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Paper Excellence announces indefinite curtailment of Crofton paper operations

Government funding has not resulted in keeping that portion of the mill running
Workers from the entire Catalyst Crofton mill gathered at the entrance to the mill in January 2023 to hear about government funding to boost paper operations that hasn’t materialized in keeping that portion of the Catalyst operation running. (File photo by Don Bodger)

Paper Excellence Canada has announced the indefinite curtailment of paper operations at the Catalyst Crofton mill.

The present curtailment was supposed to be in effect until the end of February, but the extension beyond that has already been determined well in advance.

The company cited market dynamics, inflationary pressures on raw materials, energy cost opportunities and a lack of local domestic fibre supply resulting in substantial increases in operating costs as the reasons for the decision. It says those pressures have materially impacted the current and future financial viability of the paper operation.

The decision affects about 75 employees who are members of Unifor Local 1132.

“We recognize the difficulty this decision has placed on both our employees and the Cowichan Valley community,” said Blair Dickerson, Paper Excellence’s vice president of public affairs. “We will work to minimize negative impacts wherever possible.”

“This is devastating news for these workers and their families, who were already facing months of uncertainty about their future employment at the site,” commented North Cowichan Mayor Rob Douglas. “Many have deep roots in the community, and understandably are not keen to uproot their families and move elsewhere for work.”

The mill’s pulp operations, which employs about 400 Public and Private Workers of Canada Local 2 members and salaried staff, will continue production during the paper curtailment. The Crofton team is focusing on making the remaining pulp operations cost competitive and aligned with overall business strategies and direction.

Paper Excellence says it will continue to supply customers with products typically made at Crofton from other mills within the company group where possible.

“The Crofton mill is a longstanding employer in North Cowichan and a significant contributor to the local economy, providing $4.5 million annually in property taxes,” pointed out Douglas. “While Paper Excellence will continue operating the pulp side of the mill, we remain concerned about the volatility of this industry. We will continue to advocate for the necessary supports to keep the mill operating while supporting efforts to secure employment for the workers impacted by this week’s announcement.

“We have been in contact with Unifor Local 1132, which represents the unionized employees on the paper side of the mill, and offered our support in helping these workers find new employment in the Cowichan region. We are currently working with the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation to activate a Community Transition table that will bring various government agencies together to help these workers transition to new jobs or receive skills training. We hope to hold our first meeting at municipal hall in the coming days.”

A year ago at this time, it was announced that $18.8 million in federal and provincial funding would be provided to retool one of the paper machines to manufacture new products to reduce the use of single-use plastics, saving jobs and building a strong foundation for the site.

“We were all excited about what that investment meant for the long-term future of the pulp and paper operations at the Crofton mill,” noted Douglas.

The company acknowledged the federal and provincial government support for its paper operations at Crofton and says it will respect the terms and conditions of contribution agreements affected by the indefinite curtailment and work with the appropriate government agencies on the next steps.

“In recent weeks, North Cowichan has been in regular contact with the Minister of Forests regarding the current challenges with the Crofton mill and opportunities for enhanced provincial supports that could improve the site’s productivity and sustainability, including maintaining the Coast Fibre Recovery Zone, committing long-term funding to the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., supporting the sawmill sector, promoting of commercial thinning practices and enhancing support for the Wildfire Risk Reduction Program,” Douglas indicated.

Related story: Curtailment of paper operations at Catalyst Crofton mill extended 90 days

The curtailment of paper operations started for a perceived one-month period on June 30, 2023 and has continually been extended ever since.

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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