Changes at Vale contribute to uncertain mood in Thompson

As Thompson reaches the end of the month that it was dreading for years, if not quite since the smelter and refinery closure plans were first announced in 2010, there’s a feeling that we might not be through the worst of the adjustment yet.

Over this summer, Vale has announced changes to its Manitoba Operations, including the elimination of Mark Scott’s former role as the vice-president in Thompson and the shifting of responsibility for overseeing the mine to Alistair Ross, the company’s new North Atlantic mines director. A few weeks later, the maintenance shutdown was extended by three to four weeks to preach the importance of safety after some potentially dangerous incidents. At the same time, it was announced that Warren Brass would be retiring this fall after 37 years with Vale and Inco in Thompson. Most recently, Manitoba Operations corporate affairs and human resources manager Ryan Land revealed that he would be taking a role with the company in Sudbury, though he will continue to work in Thompson periodically over the next few months and have responsibilities with Manitoba Operations over the longer term.

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All of this is on the heels of the layoffs of 127 employees as of July 31, at which time 34 other hourly employees who had expected to be out of a job with the official closure of the smelter and refinery were told that their jobs would not be eliminated until the end of the year. Not surprisingly, some of those who could have still been employed with the company have already resigned and moved on. Uncertainty can be very trying.

Unfortunately for many other people in Thompson, the constantly shifting situation at Vale affects them as well, but many either cannot or do not want to respond by quitting their jobs and moving away. Add to that the upcoming municipal elections this October, which will end with a new mayor and at least two new school board trustees for the School District of Mystery Lake (SDML), presuming some candidates eventually step forward, and the mood of uncertainty descends like an early autumn fog over the Hub of the North.

In the years leading up to this summer, people may have thought that at least, come August 2018, they would know where they stood. But between intervening events, such as the suspension of mining at Birchtree Mine in 2017, which many feel is likely a precursor to more permanent closure, and plans that are anything besides solid – three rounds of layoffs this year, no two – it seems that it will be at least four more months before Thompsonites get an idea of what this city might really be like in the future. Vale attests that it is a bright one for mining and milling, but even if it weren’t, how likely – or wise – would they to be to say otherwise?

As of right now at least, Thompson is still standing, if perhaps a little worse for wear. When will the big picture and the likely course of events in the near future start to reveal themselves more clearly? That remains uncertain.

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