Comment: Catalyst deal will protect worker pensions

DOUG ROUTLEY

Re: “Premier retreats from pension stand,” column, March 20.

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Last week’s announcement of the finalized purchase of Catalyst by Paper Excellence is a reason to celebrate. And it’s about time people in our coastal forest communities had something to celebrate.

Under the previous provincial government, we regularly heard about mills shutting down, of jobs being lost. This announcement supports the continued operation of mills in Crofton, Port Alberni and Powell River, as well as a distribution centre in Metro Vancouver, which provide jobs to about 1,500 employees in the forestry sector. This is a sign that our coastal forest industry is finally moving in the right direction.

Protecting forestry jobs and worker pensions has always been a priority of our government.

Back in July, we took action to protect jobs and pensions at the three Catalyst mills, in case the troubled company decided to liquidate its Canadian operations. In the event of a sale, our amendment to the Pension Benefits Standards Regulation ensured that the remainder of the 2012 outstanding pension obligation would be funded immediately.

That was a worst-case scenario. Our goal has always been to keep the pulp mills in Crofton, Port Alberni and Powell River open and to protect the communities and 6,500 direct and indirect jobs that depend upon them.

We have spent months focused on keeping people working and on getting the competitiveness conditions in place to provide lasting economic stability for companies, workers and communities on our coast. In January, we set out our Coast Forest Sector Revitalization Initiative to increase the processing of B.C. logs on the coast and to reduce wood waste by redirecting it to B.C.’s pulp and paper mills.

That work has paid off.

Last October’s announcement that Paper Excellence was acquiring the Catalyst operations — finalized last week — was great news for the employees, the communities and B.C.’s economy. Those mills will continue to operate with the support of a new owner that already has experience in the pulp and paper industry.

The sale of the Catalyst operations to Paper Excellence was critical to protecting jobs. Paper Excellence is in the pulp and paper business and is committed to keeping all three mills operational. It has a reputation across Canada for investing in and modernizing its mills and operations.

But we didn’t just take the company at its word.

Our government took other actions to help ensure protection is provided to pensions while facilitating the sale of Catalyst. We entered a pension agreement with Paper Excellence and its subsidiary, under which both companies have provided a written, unconditional guarantee of the outstanding 2012 solvency deficit.

The unconditional guarantee will become payable by Paper Excellence and its subsidiary if the conditions of the Pension Benefits Standards Regulation are not met, even if Catalyst becomes insolvent. In addition, if Catalyst becomes insolvent, the guarantee would allow the plan to make a claim against assets of Paper Excellence and its subsidiary, as well as Catalyst’s assets. This is an additional source of funding protection beyond what is available under the Pension Benefits Standards Act.

Our government is working hard to revitalize our forest industry, and we will continue to do so. We want to go beyond simply protecting jobs — we want to see growth and innovation in the sector so that good-paying jobs are there for the next generation and beyond.

Doug Routley is the New Democrat MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan.

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