A union representing hundreds of B.C. pulp mill workers is asking for the federal government to intervene in a trade war it says is threatening to close three B.C. pulp mills and two others across Canada.
The U.S. Department of Commerce announced this week a new 22 per cent anti-dumping duty on products produced by Catalyst, which operates coastal B.C. pulp mills in Port Alberni, Crofton and Powell River, as well as two more in Newfoundland and Quebec, employing approximately 1,500 workers.
Unifor, which represents many of those workers, fears the duties could lead to hundreds of job losses and has released a video urging the federal government to take immediate action to end the tariffs.
“I never ever would’ve dreamed that Donald Trump would be affecting my livelihood,” Powel River Catalyst worker Brett Vizzuti said in the video posted to social media.
Unifor president Jerry Dias said U.S. President Trump is introducing “chaos” into trade relations with Canada, with his latest attack on Canadian workers putting five pulp and paper mills across the nation in jeopardy of closure.
“Unfair tariffs aren’t just political theatre, they’re reckless policies that will close down mills and throw hundreds of Canadians out of work,” Dias said. “This is completely unacceptable and Ottawa needs to push back hard against these heavy-handed tactics.”
Dias said the tariffs have one goal in mind, to weaken Canadian paper manufactures for the benefit of U.S. producers.
“Unifor has responded with a high profile campaign to fight back against Trump the bully,” he said. “We’re asking people to write to the federal Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr to tell him that Canada has to hit back hard to protect our jobs.”
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns said he has been working behind the scenes with Catalyst Paper and the Prime Minister’s office to find a way to help the beleaguered paper company. He said the framework for the federal government’s softwood lumber aid package should be set within the month.
“This is an issue we need government to be fighting very aggressively over,” Johns said from Ottawa. “This affects 600,000 jobs in the U.S. right now; it’s not just Canadian jobs that (trade tariffs) affect. These challenges don’t make sense. We need the prime minister to fight for us.”
He said people don’t understand the seriousness of the situations and defended Unifor’s public campaign, saying it’s not alarmist to think that Catalyst may have to close its Vancouver Island plants.
“It is challenging right now. This is a company that can’t carry these heavy punitive duties, these penalties,” he said. “They can’t sustain it forever.”
In a statement released in March, Ned Dwyer, Catalysts’s president and CEO called the U.S. trade action unwarranted and without merit.
“Even with the exemption of directory paper, the remaining anti-dumping and countervailing duties are onerous and a critical cost challenge for Catalyst,” Dwyer said. “They pose a threat to our competitiveness and the sustainability of our business and we will continue to vigorously defend ourselves against them.”
Jon Lefebure, mayor the Municipality of North Cowichan where the Crofton mill is located, said increasing costs could drastically hamper Crofton’s profitability, leading to layoffs and even its complete closure.
“I think the mill can withstand these increased costs for awhile, but the fear is that if these punitive tariffs continue, the mill will be priced out of business,” Lefebure said. “That’s a major concern because the Crofton mill is the biggest employer in the region outside of School District 79.”
Lefebure said the Crofton mill is such a big operation, running it full-time, even if it is taking financial losses, might be cheaper than shutting it down until its products are more financially viable in the marketplace.
“It’s certainly a difficult economic situation for our mill,” he said. “It’s not a fair tariff and is not justified. It’s really just a bully tactic. Catalyst has fought similar battles with unfair tariffs in the past, and we hope the company is successful again.”
— with a file from Susie Quinn, Alberni Valley News