Adrian Dix rings Toronto Stock Exchange bell for Island's Catalyst Paper

[UPDATED] Catalyst Paper officials  celebrated the firm’s return to the Toronto Stock Exchange by ringing the bell to open trading this morning.

And took along a special guest — Opposition leader Adrian Dix.

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It’s not every day that a company shows up at a ceremonial event with an Opposition leader as their guest, particularly a New Democrat opposition leader.

But the B.C. Liberals have apparently taken a pass on joining the event. Catalyst sent invitations about a week ago to Premier Christy Clark and several MLAs from both sides of the house. Clark, who was on holidays last week, apparently declined.

Dix, who is scheduled to be in Toronto and Ottawa for other events, accepted.

The event marks the return to public trading for a paper company that was down and almost out early last year. Catalyst was put in creditor protection and delisted from the exchange last year. It waged a dramatic struggle through the spring and summer to restructure itself to reduce debt.

The first vote by creditors on the firm’s reorganization failed, which put in doubt the future of its mills at Crofton, Port Alberni and Powell River, and thousands of employees and pensioners.

But after a series of manoeuvres over several weeks, the restructuring plan was voted upon again and it passed. That preserved the company as a going concern.

Catalyst CEO Kevin Clarke rapped Clark and her government during that period for lack of action. He said the government’s lack of interest may have contributed to the restructuring plan’s first defeat. And he said that Jobs Minister Pat Bell’s public assertions that they were working with the company were “simply not true.” Bell was later taken off the file and replaced by MLA Colin Hansen, who helped secure passage of the plan on the second try.

It was vital to the continued operation of the company. When the first vote failed, Catalyst began planning to put itself up for sale, which could have meant the breakup of the company’s assets.

The second vote in June passed overwhelmingly.

Dix said today that Catalyst’s future looked very difficult after the first vote failed.

“But a lot of people stepped up. Union members … pensioners … the company … the federal government and perhaps last after some pressure, the provincial government, as well. It’s a great B.C. story.”

Dix said the B.C. Liberals, who have a long-standing policy of refusing to subsidize individual businesses, ignored Catalyst for some time and only took an interest after it became a public and legislature issue.

“That said, the thing worked out successfully to the credit of everyone involved. This is a day to celebrate a success.

“I’m not going to criticize them [Liberals] for not being there. I’m just delighted that I’ll have a chance to be there.”

Dix will also meet with federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and some NDP premiers during the trip.

Clarke said Catalyst invited numerous people to be on hand this morning. About 20 guests are expected, including an official from the Yellow Pages Group, a key customer.

“We’re not making a political statement. We would have been happy to have both of them [Dix and Clark] there.”

The company has not lost any customers and has shed a lot of debt. It had a total of $840 million in debt at the time it went into creditor protection and is now carrying a more manageable $260 million, he said.

Trading of shares is expected to be minimal, as 96 per cent of them are held by strategic institutional investors.

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