About 400 people gathered in Miramichi August 8 for a march and town hall meeting to protest job losses in several industries, in a perfect storm of government inaction, industry interference and the privatization of seniors’ health care facilities.
Out of work are 147 workers at the Miramichi Lumber Mill; at least 40 workers at Hebert’s Recycling Inc. face a shutdown in the fall; and 300 public employees at two regional seniors care homes will be dismissed and told to reapply for fewer, lower paying jobs.
Speakers included company managers, union officials and representatives from the NDP and the Peoples Alliance Party, as well as local PC MLA Jake Stewart. Noticeably absent were local Liberal MLAs Bill Fraser and Lisa Harris, represented on the stage by two empty chairs that bared their names.
Dozens of workers and their supporters wore t-shirts bearing the words ‘Save Hebert’s Jobs’ and ‘Senior Care Is NOT For Profit.’ Speaker after speaker rose to call out the disastrous mismanagement and corruption by consecutive Conservative and Liberal governments, and their accommodation of the Irving family’s stranglehold and demands on New Brunswick’s wealth and wood allocations from New Brunswick’s Crown Forest.
Town hall organizer Aaron Allison opened the meeting, saying that the people of the Miramichi were not going to remain quiet. “We’re going to stand up and be counted,” Allison said.
Stewart spoke to several of the issues, but remained unapologetic for the Alward government’s closed door deals with the J.D. Irving Ltd., which allowed Irving in excess of 440,000 cubic meters of additional wood per year for 25 years from the Crown Forest, saying that there is “an inherent and vast difference with what our (Alward) government did and what (the Gallant government) did.”
CUPE official Patrick Roy presented on behalf of the seniors care professionals whose seniority, job security and benefits are in jeopardy. He said it is unconscionable that health care services such as the proposed public-private partnership (P3s) seniors’ care facilities make a profit from the care of the elderly in our communities. Roy said that time and time again, government auditors’ reports have concluded that P3 ventures cost significantly more to operate than publicly run services.
Fred Hamilton, operations manager of Hebert’s Recycling Inc., described the company’s facility as unequalled by any other in the province and spoke about their commitment to providing good jobs in the community.
Hamilton stressed the fact that the company has not asked for a single dollar of public money, only that the province put an immediate halt to the awarding of the contract by jointly-owned Pepsi and Coca Cola beverage container company Encorp Atlantic to out-of-province companies, and enact legislation to keep the processing of beverage containers in the province. “If this proposal goes forward, Miramichi will lose 40 jobs,” Hamilton said.
Danny Anderson, president of Miramichi Lumber, described the ongoing struggles the mill encountered with politicians. He spoke to the crowd about pre-election promises from David Alward and Brian Gallant, guaranteeing Crown Forest wood would go to the mill and then encountering what he described as “amnesia” shortly after they were elected to office.
Anderson said that the mill’s management was not asking the province for an injection of public money, they just want to be a guaranteed allotment of wood so the mill could remain in operation. “There’s not one stick of wood being processed in the Miramichi,” Anderson pointed out.
Anderson said he is frustrated by the fact that Miramichi Lumber is regularly contacted by people who want to invest in the Miramichi. But without the wood those potential investors are turned away. “Fredericton has another plan.”
Anderson suggested that the politicians and the province’s bureaucrats want the wood to go somewhere else. “It’s not about the money, it’s about the wood,” alluding to the influence of the Irving family on both Conservative and Liberal governments.
Miramichi Lumber Financial Officer Hal Raper spoke about the company’s plan to build a privately invested $200 million wood fiber processing facility that would have created 400 jobs. The proposed plan would have processed scrap wood into engineered wood products and created energy to be put back into the electrical grid.
“We couldn’t get a meeting with the (Alward government) minister, the deputy minister. We didn’t even get a question from a bureaucrat,” Raper said. “How is that possible unless someone else controls the wood supply in New Brunswick?”
Miramichi woodlot owner and organizer Jean Guy Comeau passionately addressed the crowd, saying, “In 1982 they started to take the land that you and I own, and from then on we went down the drain…What you are losing is unbelievable,” because of the Crown Lands and Forest Act.
Forestry activist and filmmaker Charles Theriault described the situation in New Brunswick’s forest sector as a willful plan to starve smaller companies so they will fail. “What’s been happening here on the Miramichi, they are willing to sacrifice this area, it makes no sense,” Theriault said.
Terry Wishart is a member of the Fredericton Chapter of the Council of Canadians. Wishart is also running for the Green Party in the Mactaquac-Tobique Riding in the federal election.