Nothing could be done to save Belledune smelter, minister says

Municipal and provincial officials say there was nothing they could've done to persuade the owner of Brunswick Smelter in Belledune to keep the plant going.

Trevor Holder attended an emergency meeting called by Premier Blaine Higgs on Wednesday evening with Glencore Canada Corp., after the company announced earlier in the day that it was closing its lead smelter.

"It is very clear coming out of that meeting that they are leaving," Holder, the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, told Information Morning Fredericton.

"There is no way to change their mind."

The closure of Brunswick Smelter will put 420 people out of work by Christmas.  

The smelter, about 42 kilometres north of Bathurst on the Bay of Chaleur, is one of the largest employers in northern New Brunswick. Glencore said the plant hadn't made money in three years.

The company told officials that about 25 per cent of the smelter employees are eligible for pensions, but that still leaves most of the workers in a difficult spot and in need of new jobs.

"There are some people that we may need to retrain, if that's possible," Holder said. "There are some folks that may be able to transition into other opportunities."

Holder said the municipal, provincial and federal governments need to work together to establish solutions, but he wouldn't elaborate on what any of the solutions might look like.

He said the New Brunswick government is willing to use its resources to help the Chaleur region, which he described as facing a transition. 

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"We don't want anyone to say goodbye to New Brunswick … and we will continue to work to make sure that we move that region forward," he said.

Joe Noel, the mayor of Belledune, said the village will lose about $800,000 or 16 per cent of its total budget when the smelter closes, adding he's not sure how the area will make up for the loss.

"That's not something you can do on the turn of a dime. That's going to take some time and some planning." 

He said the region needs to take advantage of its natural resources.

"I think we have to do everything we can to use them to the best of our ability and make them profitable," he said.

Daniel Guitard, the Liberal MLA for Restigouche-Chaleur and Speaker in the legislature,  said he's confident the region will survive since it has gone through similar troubles in the past. 

"We still have the Port of Belledune and we still have the people of the region, we're still a government centre," Guitard said. 

"There's government jobs in Bathurst, so I have confidence in the people of the region and we will succeed." 

Holder said a timeline hasn't been established yet, but the appropriate groups and departments will be meeting in the next few weeks to discuss solutions.

"I think what's important right now is that we move forward as a province and we work with the community up there," he said.