In the spring of 1970 I had completed a Bachelor of Education at the University of Toronto and was unable to procure a teaching position for the coming year.
Thus, spotting a job listing on the U of T's job placement board and getting it based only on my height and weight had me almost run down Spadina Avenue, jumping and clicking my heels with joy (I was really happy, but never could do that Spadina thing).
Unbelievably, in all of Toronto, the factory was just minutes walk from my basement apartment (Withrow Ave, near the Don Jail). My job at Consolidated Bathurst was making-printing cardboard boxes. It was a very tough job in the beginning, but its $2.60 hourly wage, plus production bonus, was most welcomed to pay the rent, fill the cupboard, pay on a student loan and even save for a trip to Europe the following year. Joyful days at the plant.
Who knew then that Consolidated Bathurst through mergers with Stone, Price, Abibiti and Bowater, would in the end have part of it die in my hometown?
Back in those Toronto days, my former apartment roommate, along with another St. F.X business grad, moved on to bigger things that had them, months later, show up at my place driving a black Lincoln with power buttons for everything! I was truly impressed. They were heading for the big money - the big times!
However, once at a tavern the truth hit the fan. They had no cash! They were living on someone else's dime - credit cards. Suits, briefcases and a fancy car were all part of their smoke and mirrors, a pyramid selling scheme that almost landed them in jail. So, I, the lowly factory worker, had to buy the rounds confirming that real jobs beat fake jobs any day of the week.
Two former residents, in town recently, told me how much they were impressed with the new housing, new businesses, and High Street. It wasn't what they expected to find with the mill gone.
It is what is, that's for sure. But I still remember the smoke and mirrors appearance of my two St. F.X. friends with the Lincoln and credit cards. How long can we live off governments dimes? Where are the real jobs to drive our economy?
A quick tally of my own street reveals a predominance of incomes tied to federal, provincial and municipal coffers - jobs or pensions. Federal and provincial job cuts are already being felt here and might those cuts get deeper if the Canadian economy struggles because of happenings in the USA, Europe and Asia?
Our provincial budget is straining due to oil revenue being much lower than expected. How bad will the budget numbers be once we hear from dear Minister Tom? Could next year be even worse if the oil numbers stay low and ore shipments out of Labrador drop? How far could future oil revenue fall if all the shale oil and gas discoveries in the USA get into production? Thus every dollar counts.
As for our town, we are losing big bucks because of the loss of the grant in lieu of taxes tied to the former mill. Nalcor is making a tidy fortune from the mill's power plant. But not a single nickel of taxes for us!
Meanwhile, in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia (mill went bankrupt) Mayor Billy Joe Maclean insisted that the new owners, of the soon to be re-started mill, pay the $2.5 million tax. The company wanted to pay one-sixth, around $410,000. Billy Joe said no. And the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia agreed that the ten-year deal stands. However, the town is cutting the mill some slack - a $1.3 million tax offer.
Too bad Mayor Hawkins took a smelly appointment to Nalcor's board of directors instead of kicking up a stink like Mayor Billy Joe and get us at least $1.3 million a year from Nalcor.
As for real jobs - future uses of the forest and the power generated at Grand Falls - it's all smoke and mirrors. The provincial government committees appointed after the mill closed are seemingly deadwood. Any surprise there? Not really. Much the same happened when the first paper machines shut down in 1968 and afterwards with the shut downs of Number 5 and Number 6.
Why should Premier Dunderdale be overly concerned about us when she constantly hears our council salivating at the mouth about how good things are here, even with no grant in lieu of taxes or primary jobs?
Pensions and government spending - all generated from taxes - may just very well keep our local economy humming along, for now. But I wouldn't want a big mortgage tied around my neck if the smoke and mirrors suddenly gave way to reality!
As for that corporate merger mentioned earlier, its last days here as AbitibiBowater (now Resolute) are not over yet as we
await the Supreme Court of Canada ruling on the clean up and
dismantling a proud job sight that now lies dark and idle.
Perhaps we should insist that the structure be hydroseeded - make it totally green (trees already growing on top centre of the mill). The mammoth structure in all its various forms could be most artistically attractive and bewitch hordes of tourists with its natural looking beauty as they shop for fresh veggies, knickknacks and doodads at the High Street market, or cool off at the splash fountain.
And in decades to come its innards could be broken open and
people allowed in, to explore and look at the machines and fittings and talk about the real jobs that once made this town and region tick.
Andy Barker at firstname.lastname@example.org