09 August 2006

No interest, indeed

There is something oddly appropriate about the headline on a release from natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale advising that the Stephenville Mill will be scrapped but assuring us that she and her colleagues are still working dilligently on a "strategy".

The headline: "No interest expressed in Stephenville mill".

The confirmation of government's position is in a quote from Joan Burke, education minister and the member of the legislature representing Stephenville: "Perhaps now that this matter is settled, we can all fully concentrate our efforts on diversifying and strengthening our economy..."

The only problem with Burke's position is that it is exactly the opposite of what she and the Premier told the people of Stephenville repeatedly over the past couple of years. From Williams election pledge that the mill would not close right down to the prospect of expropriating the property, Williams and his minister made great promises.

They talked of having a fall-back position, a so-called Plan B.

Turns out there was no Plan B, except perhaps as expressed in the quote from Burke, above.

With this news release, the Williams administration is accepting Abitibi's proposal to demolish the entire Stephenville mill structure and restore the site as near as possible to its original state before the mill was built in the 1970s.

What this means is that government is unwilling to purchase or otherwise acquire the building and have it available for alternative uses besides papermaking. Government has deemed it better to obliterate completely any sign of the mill than to look at any form of industrial development in place of the Abitibi mill.

So what are we to make of the talk over the past few years?

Not much, apparently.

In the release, we are not even given the courtesy of some hard, factual information. We are not told that a thorough engineering and financial assessment have shown it is actually better to let Abitibi clean up the site and let someone start from scratch.

We are not told very much of anything actually.


All we get in the news release are hoary cliches about diversification and a commitment to doing something. Accountability, transparency, openness - genuine communication - all are missing.

The one thing we can be thankful for is that Stephenville is not being handled like Harbour Breton, at least at this point. There, people have been kept hanging for two years with glowing promises and commitments, none of which have come true. At least in Stephenville, people know the thing is over and those that have not already gotten on with their lives can do so now.

It is oddly appropriate, therefore, that the release title mentions a lack of interest. The headline refers to the lack of intereest of other parties in operating the plant as a papermaking mill.

Given the content of the release, though, it would seem the headline also refers to a certain lack of interest on the part of the current administration in any of a number of things. Not the least of these would be any role the mill site itself might play in the future "economic diversification" of the area supposedly being developed by the committee of ministers that leads a task force of officials - that lives in the house that Jack built? - as they set about "exploring a number of value-added options that have been identified for the region, with technical support being provided by staff of the Department of Natural Resources."

No interest, we are told.

No interest, indeed.