Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

When the mines fall silent

  • Print

FLIN FLON -- Will Round 2 of the NDP government's self-described "fight" to save mining jobs in Thompson prove any more successful than Round 1?

Given the vital importance of those jobs to northern Manitoba, northerners hope so, though the signs may not be overly promising at the moment.

Nickel behemoth Vale recently announced it may suspend operations next August at its aging Birchtree Mine, which employs about 210 workers. It is also delaying for a year a decision on how to proceed with its highly touted new 1-D mine.

On the plus side, Vale now plans to keep its smelter and refinery -- which employ about 500 people, or 40 per cent of the company's Thompson workforce -- running until the end of 2015, a year later than initially projected.

When Vale confirmed two years ago the smelter and refinery would cease operations, the province promptly announced Premier Greg Selinger would "fight" the matter.

Churchill MP Niki Ashton, who lives in Thompson, also got on board, at one point convincing pot-stirring American documentarian Michael Moore to write an essay that accused Vale of all sorts of dastardly deeds.

At another point, Thompson MLA Steve Ashton gave an interview to the Thompson Citizen that produced a rather tough-sounding headline: Steve Ashton Threatens Vale with Provincial Mining Legislation on Smelter and Refinery Shutdown.

It was all for naught. The smelter and refinery decision stood, though Vale has stated from Day 1 that no one will be laid off as a result.

Now amid weak nickel prices comes the Birchtree Mine announcement, and although the word hasn't been used this time around, it sounds like politicians perceive this as another "fight."

"We strongly believe that Birchtree can continue to be economical, particularly if viewed as part of the larger assets holdings in Thompson," says a provincial spokesman.

Adds the spokesman: "Manitoba has taken the position that the best course of action is to look at cost-management measures, as Vale is doing, and continue mining until the workforce can be transitioned to the 1-D project, if necessary."

All northerners can take that position. That would be ideal. But it's not something the NDP can decree any more than it could force the smelter and refinery to keep running.

For all of the province's talk of working on "options" with Vale, market conditions and the availability of product carry the day in resource economies.

Thompson's struggles are no more heartbreaking than those in Flin Flon, where miner Hudbay has shut down its copper smelter and a mine over the last two years, or The Pas, where lumber giant Tolko has been forced into layoffs and very nearly left town in 2006.

In Vale's case, unless the province is prepared to hand over tax dollars to a global corporation that made $22.09 billion last year (as politically unsightly as that would be), it's not clear what true "options" exist. To suggest otherwise may amount to raising false hope.

To its credit, the NDP has committed to helping anyone who may be laid off from Vale find jobs at other northern Manitoba mines, including Hudbay's massive Lalor project under development in Snow Lake, a 240-kilometre drive away.

The province has also passed (but not yet proclaimed) a piece of legislation, the Thompson Nickel Belt Sustainability Act, that would put provincial taxes paid by Vale into an economic-development fund for Thompson.

Economic development should be more of a focus for the NDP not only in Thompson, but also in The Pas and Flin Flon. Northerners are under no illusion about their present economy: Mines do dry up and only so many trees can be chopped down.

Fortunately, despite some setbacks, mining and forestry appear relatively healthy in this region. Thompson, with an ostensibly promising nickel-fuelled future, would surely bounce back should a worst-case scenario materialize or, in other words, should Round 2 of this "fight" end in "defeat."

Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2012 A15

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Selinger addresses stadium lawsuit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • STDUP ‚Äì Beautiful West End  begins it's summer of bloom with boulevard s, front yards  and even back lane gardens ,  coming alive with flowers , daisies and poppies  dress up a backyard lane on Camden St near Wolseley Ave  KEN GIGLIOTTI  / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  /  June 26 2012
  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Winnipeg Free Press 090528 STAND UP...(Weather) One to oversee the pecking order, a pack of pelican's fishes the eddies under the Red River control structure at Lockport Thursday morning......

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google