Mayor of North Cowichan, British Columbia, upbeat about future of Catalyst Paper pulp mill in Crofton after meeting with Catalyst CEO and premier, says there's been more direct contact between province and Catalyst than ever before

COWICHAN, British Columbia , May 29, 2012 () – North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure was upbeat about Crofton pulp mill's future after this morning's meeting in Victoria with the premier and Catalyst Paper brass.

"It's absolutely great," Lefebure told the News Leader Pictorial after the brainstorming huddle with Premier Christy Clark, Catalyst CEO Kevin Clarke, and deputy-finance minister Peter Milburn, and former finance minister Colin Hansen.

"Catalyst is a large part of our provincial economy, and it would be crazy for the province and Catalyst not to have a good working relationship.

"I'd say there's been more direct contact between the province and Catalyst than ever before."

That's good news to Lefebure if it helps keep the 700-worker Crofton mill alive as North Cowichan's biggest taxpayer.

It paid the municipality about $5.4 million in taxes last year.

Also present were mill union agents, plus Port Alberni Mayor John Douglas of Port Alberni, and meeting-requester Mayor Dave Formosa of Powell River — two other B.C. towns where the financially troubled paper giant also runs mills.

Lefebure stressed there was no request by Catalyst boss Clarke for a bail out of his floundering company.

Instead, ideas were mulled about ways for reducing hydro rates and provincial sales taxes at Catalyst's mills.

Those lifelines were also suggested last week by Paul Zarry of Crofton mill's 380-member Pulp, Paper, and Woodworkers of Canada union.

A complex bid to help the firm meet its pension payments to retired workers was also discussed, the mayor said.

"The premier was listening," Lefebure said.

Clarke was also slated to visit the Crofton mill this afternoon, his staff said.

Catalyst is now undergoing what's called a SISP, or Sales and Investor Solicitation Procedures concerning prospective buyers.

Keeping jobs, pensions and taxes alive in Crofton is the goal of valley MLA Doug Routley who demanded Monday in the legislative question period that the province get to the table with Catalyst and the province to help the struggling company.

Routley stopped short today of suggesting a provincial bailout for Catalyst.

"I can't prescribe what the company needs, but I'm sure we'd have been at the table," Routley said of the opposition NDP.

He noted Crofton's workers have taken a hit in wages and benefits to help Catalyst's bottom line while North Cowichan homeowners face an average of $275 in tax uplifts come July, through council's tax shift from the mill.

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