Short-term plan needed to address mining-related job losses in Northern Manitoba, says NDP

Manitoba’s NDP party says Premier Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government is not doing enough to mitigate the economic effects that will be felt as up to 1,500 jobs are lost in Flin Flon and Thompson in the next year or so.

A briefing note sent to Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen last May, which was obtained by the NDP through a freedom-of-information request, said those job losses could represent $100 million in lost income and an overall loss of $300 million to the Northern Manitoba economy.

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Flin Flon MLA Tom Lindsey told the Nickel Belt News that the province is not doing enough in the short term to limit the damage those jobs losses will cause.

“We need to start addressing some of these issues right now,” said Lindsey, noting that the Look North task force’s report is more focused on long-term solutions. “The long-term vision is good but what do we do now that will try and keep those jobs, those workers, in the communities in the north so that Flin Flon and Thompson can survive?”

Lindsey said the approach to this economic crisis needs to be different than the one the government has taken towards Churchill, which has been without rail service since late May.

“They need to step up their game for the rest of the north because we need to look at what investments should be made and how they can be made so that workers and communities have that job base and that tax base,” Lindsey said. “The government needs to have those people working in those high-paying jobs too because it’s a lot of taxes that are going to disappear from their tax base.”

Pallister told the CBC that the job loss numbers in the briefing note have been well known for a long time and that the focus needed to be on the long-term.

“I’m willing to commit to working very, very diligently to achieve long-term success,” he said. “If we get success in the short term that’s good, but I’m not after short-term success at the expense of long-term success. That’s what the people in the communities are asking us. They’re not looking for a flash-in-the-pan, short-term solution to their problems.”

The premier did admit that long-term plans will not achieve what they should if skilled workers leave the north before longer-term plans begin to have an effect.

“Labour and capital are mobile,” he said. “We’re looking to attract more people, not lose them. So we have a short-term challenge, clearly.”

Lindsey agrees with the government on that point.

“If those skilled workers leave and go somewhere else they’re not coming back even if down the road another mine opens so we need to do something to make sure that those skilled workers stay in the north, pay their taxes in the north, contribute to making the north’s future,” he said.

An economic profile of Thompson and region produced as part of the Look North initiative noted that the population of the region, which includes outlying communities such as Cross Lake, Norway House, Split Lake and the Island Lake area, has grown 25 per cent since 1991, including 5.4 per cent between 2011 and 2016. However, from 2011 to 2016, the region lost 493 jobs, including 169 in mining and oil and gas extraction, and 105 in public administration.

In Flin Flon, the population has been decreasing since 1991, by about 25 per cent, including a drop of 2.6 per cent between 2011 and 2016. Flin Flon lost 253 jobs between 2011 and 2016, including 78 in mining and oil and gas extraction, and 91 in manufacturing. 

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