Bill 50 – The Thompson Nickel Belt Sustainability Act – The losing fight – by John Barker (Thompson Citizen – June 18, 2014)

The Thompson Citizenwhich 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.  [email protected]

Monday marked three years to the day since Bill 50, The Thompson Nickel Belt Sustainability Act, received royal assent on June 16, 2011. There is only one catch, as the fine print points out. “This Act is not yet in force. It is to come into force on a date to be fixed by proclamation.”

Not wanting anything to have anything to do at first with the Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group (TEDWG), announced jointly a couple of weeks earlier on May 18, 2011 in a news release from the City of Thompson and Vale, the province always saw the legislation primarily as a bargaining chip to get Vale back to the table to reconsider their decision, announced 6½ months earlier on Nov. 17, 2010, that it is was “phasing out of smelting and refining by 2015” in Thompson.

To be fair to the province, even if they had been inclined to proclaim the legislation into law early on, they were under intense pressure from the City of Thompson through behind-the-scenes lobbying and politicking to delay proclamation of The Thompson Nickel Belt Sustainability Act until the TEDWG process was wrapped up and a new municipal tax and funding agreement with Vale Canada Limited for grants-in-lieu of taxes for the city, School District of Mystery Lake and Local Government District (LGD) of Mystery Lake was in place. That didn’t happen until early 2013.

On the issue of TEDWG, eventually, the province with no fanfare or publicity of any kind, relented and belatedly appointed a representative to it in November 2011.

USW Local 6166 never did join TEDWG, choosing instead to do their talking in 2011 – and again this summer – at the bargaining table through direct negotiations with the company for collective agreements. USW Local 6166 president Murray Nychyporuk is on the record as being in support of The Thompson Nickel Belt Sustainability Act being proclaimed into law, but realistically – from a pragmatic perspective – has never been overly invested in the legislation. Nice if it happens, but don’t count on it, has always been the view from the Steel Centre at 19 Elizabeth Dr.

Despite facing the prospect of The Thompson Nickel Belt Sustainability Act becoming law, as well as the reality the NDP government ultimately controls the Crown mineral leases to the nickel resource here, the company refused to blink on closing the smelter and refinery. When what passes for political hardball in Manitoba politics failed to impress Vale, the province used a change at the top in leadership in Rio de Janeiro when Valepar, the investment group that controls Vale, brought Murilo Ferreira back into the company to replace Roger Agnelli as chief executive officer, to adopt a more low-key behind the scenes approach. Ferreira had replaced Agnelli on May 22, 2011 – just days before Bill 50 was introduced.

The province saw the changing of the guard as fortuitous on two fronts: Ferreira was thought to perhaps better understand Manitoba Operations than Agnelli, as he had been chief executive officer of what was then Vale Inco in Toronto when he left the company for personal reasons at the end of 2008.

An added bonus was Ferreira had been replaced in Canada by Tito Martins, thought by many as the heir apparent and his main rival to succeed Agnelli as Vale CEO. When Ferreira surprised many by winning the crown it was seen as only a matter of time until Martins, who after being promoted to chief financial officer for all of Vale, departed the company, which he did eight months later to become director-superintendent at Votorantim Metais Ltda., another Brazilian mining company. Peter Poppinga, Martins’ successor as chief executive officer of Vale Canada and executive director of base metals globally, was seen by those who deal with him across the table as tough, but less personally combative and confrontational than his predecessor.

At the end of the day, Vale refused to blink, and the Thompson smelter and refinery, which opened March 25, 1961, will close, maybe in 2015, maybe a bit later. Mining, even perhaps expanded new mining with the Thompson Foot Wall Deep Project, previously known as Thompson (1D), will continue, along with milling.

All pretty much as Tito Martins outlined the future on Nov. 17, 2010.

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