Province faces car shortage at Meadow Lake pulp mill

In response to a question about the rail car problems at Meadow Lake, Energy and Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre called the opposition “Goldilocks and the rest of the team”.

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Operators of a pulp mill in Meadow Lake and the local tribal council are urging Canadian National (CN) to provide more railcars as the company says it has suffered production losses.

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According to pulp maker Paper Excellence, which operates the mill, CN continues to supply less than 40% of the cars requested, which it says has caused the company to slow production.

“We encourage CN to immediately provide improved rail service for the Meadow Lake mechanical pulp mill,” Meadow Lake Tribal Council Chief Richard Ben said in a statement Monday.

“Any negative business impact on our long-term partner can translate into negative impacts on employment opportunities affecting our communities and the overall sustainability of the business.”

During Question Period in the Legislative Assembly on Monday, NDP Jobs Critic Aleana Young asked the province what it was doing to help the plant get its exports to the market.

In response, Energy and Resources Minister Bronwyn Eyre mentioned past timber allocation announcements and added Paper Excellence’s plans to reopen a pulp mill in Prince Albert.

Employment Critic Aleana Young asks questions during Question Period Monday about the car shortage at Meadow Lake.
Employment Critic Aleana Young asks questions during Question Period Monday about the car shortage at Meadow Lake. Photo by screenshot /Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly

While Young retorted “the minister doesn’t know what pulp and paper mill we’re talking about here,” Eyre said the issue is industry-wide in the province.

Eyre then said, “and for Goldilocks and the rest of the team there, the jobs are never green enough. They are never quite awake. They are never subsidized enough. They are never transitioned enough. They are never fair.

Eyre apologized for the “Goldilocks” remark after the NDP rose on a point of order in the House.

After the exchange, Young told reporters that Eyre’s response to the question was “incredibly disappointing.”

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“There are 740 indirect jobs on the line at Meadow Lake and the employer and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council have been sounding the alarm for months,” Young said, adding that many people employed at the plant are indigenous.

“The fact that the Minister is apparently unable to locate him on a map and is more concerned with petty insults than a response to this transport crisis was incredibly frustrating.”

In a statement late Monday, Highways Minister Fred Bradshaw said the province has already reiterated concerns about “inadequate rail capacity” and how that affects the supply chain.

“We will continue to do this with rail service providers as well as the federal government that regulates them,” Bradshaw said, adding that he raised supply chain issues with the federal government in early March.

In a statement late Monday, CN said it “remains committed” to working with customers throughout the supply chain.

He said extreme weather conditions in Western Canada, as well as overall supply chain issues in North America, have impacted cycle times for railcars used in the wood products industry. .

“We understand the frustration felt by our customers and we continue to do everything in our power to get their goods to market as quickly as possible,” CN said.

The Meadow Lake plant employs 190 people and contributes more than $1 million a day to the Canadian economy, according to the press release.

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Chris B. Hall