NEW GLASGOW – Two months after a provincial election that saw the Liberals form government and Pictou County’s three NDP MLAs replaced with Conservatives, Maritime Steel is once again a hot topic of debate.
Production at the beleaguered, century-old foundry has been at a standstill since November 2012 and with it, the jobs of those who worked at Maritime Steel.
On Dec. 10, Pictou East MLA Tim Houston rose in the legislature and asked the Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Michel Samson about Maritime Steel.
“My question today is quite simple, has the minister had a chance to familiarize himself with the situation at Maritime Steel?” asked Houston.
Samson noted that he is waiting for information from Maritime Steel owner Abbas Jafarnia.
“Obviously, our government is open to talking with all businesses that want to do business in this province and grow in this province,” said Samson. “My staff have had various conversations with the proprietor of Maritime Steel and have clearly indicated what requirements they would have to have prior to being able to have any further discussions.”
Houston said that the delays in getting answers for Jafarnia and the unemployed workers of Maritime Steel have gone on long enough.
“(Workers) are running out of EI and are facing the prospects of moving away. So we're losing jobs in rural Nova Scotia, and it's beyond the point of desperation for these Maritime Steel workers.”
Towards the end of the discussion between Samson and Houston, the minister expressed an interest in meeting with Jafarnia to assess the options before them.
“Certainly I am more than happy to meet with the owner and representatives and certainly welcome the members of the Official Opposition from that area to be a part of those meetings as well,” said Samson.
Jafarnia said that he feels Pictou County’s three MLAs are supporting Maritime Steel and that Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn has been an advocate for his cause.
“So far, we haven’t had any clear answers from the government,” he said. “I handed a letter to Premier McNeil about Maritime Steel and sent him an email, but haven’t heard anything back.”
In November, Jafarnia wrapped up a public consultation after Nova Scotia Environment permits for Maritime Steel expired. Although, without the capital to get the foundry up and running, the process to get the environmental permits is on hold.
“There’s still some pieces missing before the application can proceed,” said Marc Theriault with Nova Scotia Environment.
Jafarnia, ever the optimist when it comes to his business, has begun to lose hope despite the change in government.
“Believe me there’s not a door out there I won’t knock on but, frankly, I’m not holding my breath,” he said. “My mistake was that I was trying to play government and create jobs for the workers rather than run a business and try to make money.”
Samson, during his discussion with Houston in the legislature, noted the importance of how public funds are used.
“We're certainly open to hearing suggestions on how to move Maritime Steel forward. But at the end of the day we need to ensure that if we are going to be asked to make investments, we are protecting taxpayers – something which I know the leader of the honourable member's party has been very vocal about,” he said.
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