Viewpoint: Catalyst sale saves jobs, protects worker pensions

Many people breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced that Paper Excellence, which owns the Howe Sound Pulp and Paper Corporation mill in Port Mellon, finalized the purchase of Catalyst Paper Corporation in Powell River.

The sale brings some security to the hundreds of employees at the Powell River mill, and indirectly to so many more.

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There wasn't the same confidence a year ago, when many were questioning its future. The threat was to jobs as well as pensions.  Our government made the matter a priority.

In July, the Pensions Benefit Standards Regulations were amended to give Catalyst a longer period to pay off its 2012 pension funding shortfall. This allowed the company to focus on staying operational, helping to ensure job security for its employees. The changes also guaranteed that if Catalyst declared bankruptcy or sold its three BC mills, that the remainder of the 2012 outstanding obligation would be funded immediately.

Last year, the province, working with pulp and paper companies, overturned the unfair anti-dumping duties imposed by the United States.

This January, the province set out the Coast Forest Sector Revitalization Initiative, which is designed to increase the processing of our logs on the coast and reduce wood waste by redirecting it to BC’s pulp and paper industry. This ensures BC companies can be competitive, and provides stability for workers in forestry-reliant communities like Powell River.

In addition to facilitating the recent purchase, government took steps to help protect pensions. Our government signed a pension agreement with Paper Excellence and its subsidiary, which provides a written, unconditional guarantee from both companies of the outstanding 2012 pension deficit.

If the conditions of the Pension Benefits Standards Regulation are not met for any reason, this unconditional guarantee will become payable by Paper Excellence and its subsidiary, and also allows the pension plan to make a claim against assets of Paper Excellence and its subsidiary, as well as Catalyst. This funding protection is in addition to what is available under current legislation.

As communities throughout the province seek to diversify and increase their resilience, the mill is qathet Regional District's single largest employer; jobs there support families and make communities like ours more economically viable. The work to make the transaction successful is appreciated.

Nicholas Simons is MLA for Powell River-Sunshine Coast.

Copyright © Powell River Peak

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