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Government, Paper Excellence investments putting 100 workers back to work in Crofton

Partnership between the province, feds and company the key to innovative approach
B.C. Premier David Eby at the Crofton mill announcement, backed by Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey. (Photo by Don Bodger)

B.C.’s beleaguered forest industry is receiving a significant boost, including the return of 100 jobs to the Crofton Catalyst pulp mill through a partnership that involves the provincial and federal governments and Paper Excellence.

A press conference at the mill site Friday morning brought together provincial government, company and union representatives as well as the workers themselves for the important announcement.

The mill is retooling to manufacture new pulp products that reduce the need for single-use plastics.

The feds are contributing $14.3 million and the province $4.5M for a combined $18.8M along with Paper Excellence’s investment of $50M to restart paper operations at Crofton.

“The key to today’s announcement is partnership,” said B.C. Premier David Eby, “$90 million innovation funds like this across the province.”

Getting people back to work so quickly after paper operations were curtailed in December is seen as a huge boost for the workers and the local economy.

“That will make a big difference to the people of Crofton and around the region,” said Eby.

“We’re all here because we’re committed to building an economy that works for everyone in the province. We want to do what we can to support forest workers across the province.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the industry right now and people are looking for security and that’s what we are aiming to do in partnership with you.”

Paper Excellence brought forward a plan that rapidly reached a consensus from all parties.

“Our government will continue to be there to support people just like we’re doing in Crofton,” said Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley, who hosted the press conference in his home riding.

“This investment in the mill at Crofton is exciting,” he added. “Not only will it put people back to work, it is an example of how investment in our forestry infrastructure can help reduce emissions, encourage innovations, reduce waste and make sure we get the most value from every tree harvested. Forestry is a foundation of B.C.’s economy and we are committed to making sure there is a strong, stable forest industry that can provide good, family supporting jobs now and for generations to come.”

“It keeps jobs local so people can stay in their communities,” added Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey. “I know the value of stable jobs that pay well. And it will help B.C. meet its climate commitments.”

The funding also supports a clean, innovative economy. It will aid in the production of water-resistant paper packaging to replace single-use plastics, increase the competitiveness of the Crofton mill, reduce waste from production and use fewer trees for the same volume of product while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Eby noted this is a great example of governments and business collaborating to innovate and create new, sustainable opportunities in forestry. “By working together we can find solutions to the pressing challenges faced by many forestry workers and communities.”

Stew Gibson, Paper Excellence Canada’s chief operating officer, pointed out it’s been a busy schedule this week putting all the finishing touches on the arrangement.

“This is a very exciting time for Crofton,” he said. “When you’re faced with difficult situations, you’ve got to look for solutions.”

Gibson added the Paper Excellence $50M investment into the Crofton facility “is the largest investment made in Crofton in two decades.”

It will allow for the restart of the C2 paper machine. Paper operations were recently curtailed due to weakening Chinese paper markets and escalating input costs.

“Today’s investment is not a destination for us, but the start of a very important journey to continue to innovate,” said Gibson.

The C2 paper machine will be transformed to produce stronger, water-resistant paper grades to replace single-use plastics while the investment also reduces natural gas consumption through more efficient use of waste bark fuel in the mill’s boiler. The result is an improvement in Crofton’s competitiveness while reducing 26,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually equal to about 5,600 cars.

Overall, the $50M investment diversifies markets, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and makes more efficient use of forest fibre. “We thank our partners in both the federal and British Columbia governments for their support towards this important project and the benefits to the surrounding community,” said Gibson. “These contributions are absolutely essential to restarting the paper operations and securing these rural jobs at the site.”

Paper Excellence will be working alongside Unifor Local 1132 and PPWC Local 2 at Crofton in the coming days to determine details of the restart plan, including the official restart date in January. At this time, the C3 paper machine at Crofton remains indefinitely curtailed.

Related story: Paper Excellence announces indefinite curtailment of Catalyst Crofton paper mill operations

Travis Gregson, Unifor Local 1132 president, thanked everyone for the opportunity the investments present. “I am so grateful,” he said. “This is hopefully the first step in getting another machine going.”

Geoff Dawe, PPWC Local 2 president, was appreciative of the company’s efforts in getting people back to work.

“Paper Excellence is proving it’s in it for the long haul,” he said. “The investment will help secure well-paying jobs and help reduce the mill’s carbon footprint.”

“This mill’s footprint has already been reduced over the years,” added Routley. “This will go another step further and make it more efficient.”

Earlier this week, the B.C. government announced up to $90M in funding for the B.C. Manufacturing Jobs Fund that will provide funding to forestry companies that require equipment to support new product lines, such as mass timber production or paper packaging, or smaller-diameter tree processing and manufacturing or a company that wants to build or expand a plastics-alternative manufacturing facility in a rural community.

The Forest Enhancement Society of BC, with an investment of $50M from the Province, will also expand funding for projects and programs that increase the use of low-value or residual fibre, including trees damaged by recent wildfires and waste left over from logging that would otherwise be burned in slash piles.


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From left: Geoff Dawe, Travis Gregson, Doug Routley, Premier David Eby, Brenda Bailey and Stew Gibson at the Crofton pulp mill funding announcement. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Paper Excellence chief operating officer Stew Gibson. (Photo by Don Bodger)
North Cowichan Mayor Rob Douglas on a tour of the Crofton mill operations. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley at the podium. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Brenda Bailey, centre, and Premier David Eby, right, take a tour of Crofton operations. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Crofton workers listen in to the announcement. (Photo by Don Bodger)