Nova Scotia government says funding deal for NewPage delayed but not in danger

HALIFAX – A provincial funding package considered vital to resume operations at the NewPage Port Hawkesbury paper mill is not in danger of unravelling despite delays in announcing details of the deal, Nova Scotia’s natural resources minister said Thursday.

Charlie Parker said an announcement on a revamped funding deal for Pacific West Commercial Corp., which has proposed to buy the idled Cape Breton mill for $33 million, has been delayed.

Last Friday, Parker said details of the government’s revised $124.5 million fund would be announced early this week.

“I guess we had hoped that things would come together perhaps a little sooner than they did,” Parker said Thursday.

“We’re hopeful that as soon as possible we’ll announce the details of that restructuring.”

Parker said it was unclear when that would happen. He said negotiations were ongoing with Pacific West Commercial and government lawyers were in the final stages of reviewing the deal.

The government first announced the fund last month. At the time, it included $66.5 million in loans, $26.5 million of which would be forgiven if certain criteria including wage targets were met.

But the government said last Friday it would sweeten the fund after the Canada Revenue Agency rejected a tax break and power rate arrangement that Pacific West Commercial said was necessary to reopen the paper plant. At the time, Parker said the increased windfall as a result of the agency’s ruling would allow the province to grant the Vancouver-based company greater financial forgiveness on some of the loans.

Parker reiterated Thursday the new fund would not include more money. He also said a court decision that dismissed Pacific West Commercial’s request to cancel a municipal tax deal with Richmond County had no bearing on discussions aimed at revising the government funding package.

Transportation Minister Maurice Smith also weighed in Thursday, saying his riding of Antigonish and the entire province would feel the economic fallout if the mill remains closed.

“It’s 2.5 per cent of the GDP of the province, so it’s a provincial issue and it’s too big to fail for the province,” Smith said.

But Smith said he also felt the provincial government was at the limit of what it could offer the company.

Liberal Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil said it is troubling that the government has not provided an update on its discussions with Pacific West Commercial.

“The community is worried and Nova Scotians need the government to deliver the update it promised last week,” McNeil said in a statement.

“It sounds like negotiations are getting tough and it sounds like any deal reached could get even more expensive.”

The Point Tupper, N.S., mill shut down last September, throwing about 600 employees out of work. Another 400 forestry contractors were also affected.