The effectiveness of our Military Liaison Officer is really starting to pay off – we were collectively able to make our 5 A.M. departure time. We have truly settled into the routine, packing the luggage into the bus in a third of the time that it took us at the start of the trip. As we started driving towards Bathurst, some folks decided to chat about various topics, others decided to have a little bit more sleep. We were back in our grove within a half an hour when we pulled through the sleepy town (which town isn’t sleepy at 5:30 A.M.?). And then we headed east along the Resource Road. We were moving at a fast, bouncy and bumpy clip heading to Bathurst (“BATT HEARST”). Several moose were spotted on the side of the road, but scattered into the woods before any pictures could be taken – perhaps the sound of the bus bottoming out frightened them.
We pulled into Bathurst at about 8:30 and were greeted at City Haul by Mayor Stephen Brunet, Paula Jones (a 2008 GG alumni), Brian Kenney (Liberal MLA) and three union executive members (Euclid, Ray and John). We learned from Mayor Brunet that the city of 12,000 people is an important hub for the whole northern peninsula, with three beaches, golf courses and many other amenities. The mayor shared a description of his town that he heard from a member of the mining community – “Club Med for Miners” – people like working here. The city airport infrastructure is a vital part of the community as many citizens use it as a means to fly in and out to other provinces. The mayor has plans to renovate the airport with longer runways in order to accommodate bigger planes that would allow connections with Labrador. He would also like to modernize the infrastructure and increase the size of the post-security waiting rooms to accommodate the current and future needs.
This introduction to Bathurst led into our first presentation by union leaders. Paula provided us insight into the health care union. With 350 members serving 200 beds, they have experienced several challenges over the years. She covered how they used collaboration with other unions and the government to save the pensions benefits – this resolution was made just last week.
Euclid gave us a good understanding of the Bathurst Mines, scheduled to close next year. The mine has 900 direct employees, but with works surrounding the mines the numbers swell to close to 1500-2000 people. With so many good paying jobs, the mine will have a large economic impact when it closes. The company did not come looking for concessions before deciding to shut down the plant; dialogue may have resulted in a different result. Close to 200 people in a position to retire, but they chose to stay there. At least the mine was given advance warning of the closure – a decade or so ago, the Bathurst mill had just shut overnight.
Ray covered union operations in the lead smelter located in Belledune – it’s 30 minutes away so it can sometimes get forgotten. They process the concentrate from Brunswick mine. Without the mine, the smelter would not have have been started, but now has the possibility to exist without the mine. In adapting to changing circumstances, the plant is becoming a “custom smelter”. In the past the government got involved to ensure that the processing of resources would stay local, creating jobs in the North. In order to stay competitive in the future, the company looking at cutting pensions, salaries, non-core business and other concessions. Ray also provided several occasions in the past that has generated some level of mistrust in what has been proposed by companies. Finally, Ray closed with the aspect that unions attempt, whenever possible, to either buy union-made or locally-made goods
Brian provided historical insight into the mining in Bathurst – it has been in effect since the 1700s. The government is looking at how to get away from a resource-based economy; its heavily dependent on the US. Mining in NB is generational, so it has become an “expected” way of life. Government is also involved in reducing / mitigating the loss of the mine, speaking with management over the ears and developing partnerships to discover more ore. It’s not all doom and gloom, however, since Bathurst is still a vibrant community.
John from the Bathurst District Labour Council explained how his organization is the municipal arm of unions. With 1700-1800 members, there are 13-14 different unions in the area. He works with the various unions on their campaigns, but also on employment standards acts, unemployment insurance, workplace compensation, etc. They also work on economic development, and were involved in the erection of the local monument of mourning. He was very proud of Bathurst’s 71 consecutive labour day parades. From the mine closure perspective, there will be a decrease of revenue and resources within BDLC.
Panel discussions gave an overview that NB has lost many union jobs over the years, even though it is a resource-rich province. The further north you go in the province, the greater the prevalence of union jobs. The unemployment rate in the north is at least 1.5 times greater than the provincial average. It was a great discussion, and the attendees felt that they had a much better understanding of unions as a result.
Of course, not everything will go according to plan. Although the event was foreshadowed, we found out at the end of the session that our new bus of less than 5 hours was broken. While some remained behind at city hall to sort out the issue with Ottawa, others had the opportunity to spend more time in Bathurst. We got to see the monument of mourning, and got to visit the gorgeous waterfront development that includes an observation tower that affords an incredible view of the surrounding region. Since we had missed the opportunity to volunteer at the centre the night before, we gave a collection to Paula to convey on our behalf.
A new bus company was chartered, but the bus wasn’t available until the next day. So, we all piled into rented cars (well, three rented cars with the fourth belonging to Robert, our ever-resourceful Provincial Chair) to head to Caraquet to pick up the program. Met on arrival by Camille Theriault, President of the Les Caisses Populaires Acadiennes (CPA), we were immediately treated to a very tasty lobster lunch. Although many have had lobster before, this was the first opportunity for many to actually wrestle with the lobsters themselves – there were small lobster bits flying all over the place.
Echoing the observations of Monique Leroux from Mouvement Desjardins, Camille took the opportunity to talk about credit unions. They are not only a place for the local communities to do their banking (150,000 New Brunswickers), but serve as a focal point for community involvement, sponsoring many community sport teams and events. People today shop differently. They are less loyal to their financial institutions than they were in the past, and as such the CPA have been forced to close 20 centres. He highlighted that, like all enterprises, the CPA have to be more efficient, but keep the heart and core values of the existing CPA. The CPA is a significant presence in Caraquet – the local payroll is approximately $10M. The challenge is that NB is a rural province – organizations must cut infrastructure and live within their means.
We then proceeded to our waterfront motel for the next two days in order to check in and transfer our possessions from the bus that had limped down from Bathurst during our lunch. Since the bus company has changed, we unfortunately had to say goodbye to Carla our driver- although the buses didn’t perform well, she was a most amazing and pleasant person. She was part of the team and our collective experience; she will be missed.
We were greeted by the smiles of Keith Chiasson, Francesca Degrace, and Suzanne Arsenault. Not only were they going to be our tour guides for the next few days, but they also arranged for us to have an interim bus (for those keeping track at home, it’s our third bus in the province) and organized for local drivers to take our cars back to Bathurst. We could now leave the cars behind, and carry on with the rest of the program in the gorgeous Acadian Peninsula. For people who did not know us or the GGCLC they really went out of their way to make sure we had a great visit, especially considering the challenges we had experienced with transportation.
Our next stop was the Hospital Park in Lameque. Guided by Shelley Robichaud and her team, we got to hear the success story of this aspect of the Vitality Health Network (they serve the North). With guiding principles such as participation, planning, collaboration, and teamwork, they are very community focused. There are some big challenges in providing health care to such a wide region. There is no transit system, and taxis are rare. Informative pamphlets don’t always work (illiteracy), so they have taken to the airwaves to create popular radio programs about various health issues. The key health issues in the area are management of chronic disease, smoking, overweight / obesity, lack of exercise, and low self esteem and low resilience (stressed). Shelley concluded with various factors that she identified as strengthening her organization: community involvement, respect, persistence, engagement (community, employee and senior management), and administrative structure.
We were then whisked away to see a local wind farm. A project totaling $115M and 30 windmills, we were informed how the local community created a co-op of adjoining property owner. They were able to create a united front, asking for Requests For Proposals to place a wind farm on their properties. The Acciona wind mills are imposing figures, standing 26 stories high and possessing 123′-long blades, and generating electricity for 8,000 homes.
We then went to the end of the world – not really, but it certainly felt like it. At the very tip of Miscou Island, one could imagine that they are the last person on earth. You can barely see the far-off land, affording an unobstructed view of a most spectacular sunset. We actually got to eat supper inside the lighthouse – we are only the second group to have a supper there in the 150-year history of the lighthouse. Eating a scrumptious meal of oysters, lobster sushi, shrimps and scallops, we were entertained by a great band fronted by Sandra Lecouteur. Her soulful sound was harmonious with the surroundings; due to the shape of the lighthouse it seemed like the music was surrounding us.
All too soon it was time to head back to Caraquet, but at least we get to stay in the Acadian peninsula tomorrow.