Blaming Mayor Tim Johnston for the loss of Extra Foods – a popular position on our online story for the last week with many of our DISQUS commenters – is simply nonsense.
The closure of Extra Foods is a business decision. Extra Foods is part of Loblaw Companies Ltd., of Brampton, Ont., a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange and a subsidiary of George Weston Limited of Toronto, a private company limited by shares on the same stock exchange. They exist for the purpose of maximizing profits to satisfy their shareholders; that’s the raison d’être for both companies’ existence.
The decision to close Extra Foods was also part of a power struggle, again based on economics, between Loblaw and United Food & Commercial Workers Canada Local 832, which represents hourly-rated workers at the Thompson Plaza grocery store. Now reasonable people may well disagree over whose position has more merit – the union’s or the company’s. But they’d be hard-pressed to disagree with the proposition that this is about economics and profit.
Craig Ware, director of corporate affairs in Western Canada for Loblaw in Calgary, said April 27 the reason Extra Foods in Thompson is closing June 23 is "that this location is no longer economically viable to operate.
"I can assure you that the decision to close this store was not taken lightly," Ware said. "A wide variety of possible options were considered and discussions were held with the local union, unfortunately however an agreement was unable to be reached.
Jeff Traeger, president of United Food & Commercial Workers Canada Local 832, responded the following day with "the concessions on wages, pensions and benefits that Extra Foods was asking for in order to keep the store open was far too great. Our members were being asked to give up most of their compensation package so that Extra Foods could make even more money. We are currently hoping to work with Canada Safeway to see if there is any opportunity for our Extra foods members to work at their store in Thompson once the Extra Foods closes."
Do you hear any suggestion from either the company and union that Mayor Tim Johnston is a key player in all this? Of course not.
Likewise, there’s no suggestion from the company or union that public loitering or crime or any other particular downtown issue is driving their decision to exit the Thompson market.
We too often simplify things we really know little or nothing about to make them seem comprehensible. The mayor is one voting member of a nine-member council that also includes deputy mayor Dennis Fenske and seven other at-large council seats held by fellow councillors Stella Locker, Judy Kolada, Charlene Lafreniere, Erin Hogan, Brad Evenson, Penny Byer and Luke Robinson.
But forget about council completely for a moment. The still lingering elephant in the room that some don’t want to talk about (although some of our commenters have) – focusing instead on the aesthetics of downtown, bylaw enforcement or local taxes – was the announcement by Vale on Nov. 17, 2010 they are shutting down surface operations here in 2015 with a possible loss perhaps of 250 jobs (no one knows for sure yet), which would represent about $32.5 million in annual payroll and 20 per cent of Vale’s Thompson workforce in a worst case scenario.
In a better case scenario, whatever workforce reduction turns out to be the magic number in 2015 is accomplished mainly through normal attrition, retirements and transfers, with minimal layoffs, as outlined in a transition plan for employees hired prior to last Oct. 1, by Lovro Paulic, general manager responsible for the smelter and refinery, to the Thompson Chamber of Commerce Feb. 29.
And in the best case scenario, new underground mining in Thompson will more than pick up any slack after 2015 if either or both the 1-D Project and Pipe-Kipper Project hit paydirt, as envisioned in 2010 by Tito Martins, former chief executive officer of Vale Canada in Toronto and executive director of base metals for the Brazilian parent company, who is back in Brazil after being promoted last November to chief financial officer in a top management shuffle.
The Vale situation in three years, of course, is hard to assess now with any certainty, given the paradox they are always chronically short-staffed 150 to 200 positions it seems, and frantically recruiting for skilled trades in particular, making any possible future job loss a few years from now difficult to contemplate for long when their help wanted signs are everywhere today.
We’re hoping Tito Martins turns out to be right about Vale having a robust future in underground mining in Thompson in the post-refinery and smelter era after 2015. Let’s hope too there are plenty of stores left to shop in if that comes to pass. The signs, however, on the retail front since Nov. 17, 2010 haven’t been encouraging for the most part. But that’s hardly the mayor’s fault.