[Thompson, Manitoba] A letter from Lovro Paulic: Vale answers Steve Ashton – Thompson Citizen – June 3, 2011)

The Thompson Citizen, which was established in June 1960, covers the City of Thompson and Nickel Belt Region of Northern Manitoba. The city has a population of about 13,500 residents while the regional population is more than 40,000.  news@thompsoncitizen.net

Lovro Paulic, General Manager, Smelter and Refinery
Vale, Manitoba Operations, Thompson

To the Thompson Citizen Editor:

Re: “Steve Ashton threatens Vale with provincial mining legislation on smelter and refinery shutdown,” Thompson Citizen online, May 20, 2011.

It was with disappointment that I read comments in the Thompson Citizen recently from MLA Steve Ashton criticizing the City of Thompson and Vale for their decision to launch a process designed to strengthen and diversify the city’s economic base.

It has been more than six months since Vale announced plans to transition its operations to mining and milling by 2015. It was a decision made after years of careful consideration and analysis. Now, it is time to move forward.

This is no longer a story about Vale – it is a story about Thompson and the need to ensure its prosperity for the future. Even in the face of fundamental disagreements, I think everyone would agree that working collaboratively to attract jobs and investment to Thompson is a good thing.

In the six months since our November announcement, Vale has engaged in ongoing discussions with the Province, the City and USW Local 6166. The Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group is a natural and positive outcome of those talks. This is much more than hiring a consultant. It’s a process that brings together key stakeholders in the community with different perspectives and a common vision – a better future for Thompson.

The group’s mandate to develop an economic strategy and identify the resources required to implement a realistic and forward-looking plan will help maintain and strengthen value-added jobs in Thompson. We agree with Mayor Tim Johnston on the need for detailed planning, and Vale is prepared to do its part to invest in Thompson’s future.

We also feel it important to clarify some comments contained in the article. Here are the facts:

Vale continues to work within the structure of the 1956 agreement and to provide benefits to Thompson beyond those contemplated by the 1956 agreement;

the criteria for focusing our operations on mining and milling have not changed. A stakeholder group comprised of representatives from the Province, the City of Thompson and USW Local 6166 met with Vale to discuss alternatives that were thoroughly and thoughtfully prepared. Vale responded in kind – examining the alternatives in detail. The reality is that the scenarios contemplated had already been considered at length, and in some cases acted upon, during the two-year period of examination leading to the Thompson decision.

A delegation from Vale met with provincial and union stakeholders at the Manitoba legislature on March 3 to review the company’s findings. Vale explained that delaying the closure without available feed would increase production costs and jeopardize future mine development by rendering the Thompson operations high-cost and unsustainable – impeding the ability to attract investment to develop future sources of ore. In other words, the alternative presented was a strategy built on delaying the inevitable at the expense of the future. We had to accept the fact that the plants would no longer be viable after 2015;

on the issue of grant-in-lieu, Vale has paid more in the three years following the acquisition than the prior owners did in the same period leading to the acquisition – voluntarily increasing payments the last two years beyond levels required under the existing agreement. We are engaged in active discussions with the City now on grant-in-lieu payments for 2011 and 2012 and are working on re-negotiating the grant-in-lieu agreement beyond that date (the current agreement expires in 2012). We put this in writing to both the province and the City. Like Mr. Ashton, we too believe it is essential that we continue our commitments and there is no reason we can’t conclude those talks quickly and successfully.

As a process that is just beginning, the Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group may not have the “concrete” answers people are looking for at this point. Uncovering those answers is precisely the intent of the process. No one group can purport to have all the answers for Thompson’s economic future – those answers require collaboration, creativity and, most importantly, input from those who matter most, Thompson residents. The answers begin with talking – in an open and transparent fashion

with a desired outcome of a stronger Thompson. We’ve been waiting to talk to people for six months. The City of Thompson cannot afford to wait any longer.

Almost 10 years ago, soon after the prospect of the plants closing was first discussed, Thompson Unlimited was formed to help diversify the Thompson economy in anticipation of the very scenario we face today. The Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group will complement rather than compete with the successes already achieved. It is a different process, designed to take a broader, more aggressive and accelerated look at the possibilities that exist. It is a process designed to deliver results and benefits in the short, medium and long-term for Thompson.

The closure of the smelter and refinery was difficult news to receive and difficult news to deliver – but it was a necessary decision to ensure the sustainability of our operations here in the long-term. How we respond to that decision is up to each of us. The City of Thompson and Vale have chosen to work co-operatively on future opportunities to keep the community whole. We invite you to join us.