NEW GLASGOW — Pictou County’s Regional Enterprise Network (REN) has increased its input with the transition process in response to Northern Pulp’s impending closure.
Sarah MacIntosh-Wiseman, the network’s CEO, outlined its work with the transition team the province established to address the forestry disruption the closure has caused.
Premier Stephen McNeil announced during a teleconference last Thursday initial steps the transition team has taken that include allotting $7 million for increased silviculture out of the $50-million transition fund he announced following his decision to close Boat Harbour on January 31. Paper Excellence later issued a press release stating it would close the mill, given that it could no longer discharge its effluent there.
MacIntosh-Wiseman said the PCREN and those others around the province took part in a conference call on January 3 with Deputy Minister Kelliann Dean, who chairs the transition team.
Since that call, MacIntosh-Wiseman said she has been “in contact with the province on an almost daily basis,” primarily through the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, and the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing, who then connect with Dean as needed.
“Like everyone else, the PCREN is eager to hear more from the transition team as its mandate and plans evolve,” MacIntosh-Wiseman said. “In the meantime, I do feel that we have an open line of communication to pass information and concerns along to those who will be deciding how to best support our local people and businesses as we move forward in this difficult situation.”
MacIntosh-Wiseman said she sees the PCREN’s primary role as collecting information to make sure that a local voice and perspective is being heard at the provincial level.
“Given the new status of our organization, the PCREN does not have existing relationships within the local forestry sector, but we are reaching out to connect with impacted businesses,” she said. “As well, we are working with the (Pictou County) Chamber to identify non-forestry businesses and even some in the non-profit sector who expect to be financially impacted by the anticipated closure. We want to ensure that local challenges are properly understood when provincial solutions are created.”
McNeil said the $7 million commitment will provide work for several hundred people in central and western Nova Scotia and referred to the Lahey report’s recommendations on future forestry in Nova Scotia. One of the main recommendations is to reduce clear-cutting.
“All decisions line up with the Lahey report,” he said. “There are so many moving parts to this.”
He said the transition team’s membership could expand but he did not elaborate, except to say the team would “pull in experts as needed.”
Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane said she hopes that expansion will include a Pictou County component.
MacFarlane said her press release regarding the matter last week responded to mill and forestry workers and municipal councillors who approached her about it.
“They expressed disappointment that no one (from Pictou County) was named and I agree with them,” she said. “There are individuals who came to me who are more than qualified to be on the team. This is happening in Pictou County, so there is a certain confidence in having someone from your area on the team.”
McNeil acknowledged information sessions conducted with pulp mill workers by representatives from Employment Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Works, Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency and Service Canada.
Nova Scotia Works was scheduled to begin a series of open houses on Tuesday at Career Connections in New Glasgow. Others are booked for Liverpool, Bridgewater, Sheet Harbour, Antigonish, Lower Sackville, Truro and Amherst.
Meanwhile, an Immigration and Intergovernmental Affairs spokesperson said the province’s toll-free assistance line has taken more than 230 calls.