Thompson inched into a new era Oct. 1 as Birchtree Mine stopped production of nickel ore and began the process of transitioning into care and maintenance status, a position it was previously in from 1978 until it reopened in 1989.
The move affects an estimated 150 jobs within the mine and up to 50 in processing, service and support roles, Vale Manitoba Operations said in May, when the decision to move to care and maintenance was made because it is unprofitable to continue mining at current nickel prices.
At any time, this would have been bad news for Thompson’s economy. While some affected employees may opt for early retirement and stick around and others may find new jobs locally, some will be moving out of town and taking the money that they spent on accommodations and goods and services elsewhere. That will have a trickle-down effect that even people who aren’t employed in anything mining-related will feel.
This time around, however, the decision to cease active mining at Birchtree and the accompanying job losses is only the first of back-to-back body blows that will be coming Thompson’s way. By this time next year, the smelter and refinery will no longer be a part of Vale’s local operations, and the closure of those two facilities could affect nearly three times as many jobs as Birchtree’s indefinite shutdown. Undoubtedly, there are fewer blessings for Thompson residents to count next Monday when Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving.
It would be wonderful if there were a magic bullet that could slay the economic challenges Thompson faces now and in the near future, and replace the jobs that are being or will be eliminated in one fell swoop.
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