New Brunswick’s Picadilly’s circus

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It came, it saw, it conquered; and now it leaves with practically no notice, but with some apologies.

Mark Fracchia told a packed news conference in Fredericton last week that he was utterly bereft: “This is just a very sad day for all of us. Most of all to the people who have given us so many years of loyal service, for the community of Sussex, for the province generally and certainly for all of us at PotashCorp.”

Mr. Fracchia, the honcho of the Saskatchewan resource company’s New Brunswick operations, was subdued as he announced the indefinite suspension of the conglomerate’s Sussex-based Picadilly facility built scant years ago at a cost of $2 billion.

Of course, the bottom line spins a slightly different tale: Through this move, the international conglomerate saves $50 million this year and as much as $135 million the following in capital spending, according to a CBC report.

Meanwhile, 430 people in rural New Brunswick lose the salaries they once used to pay for food, rent, mortgages, and their kids’ education.

Care to wager who, in this particular situation, is more devastated?

To be sure, PotashCorp. is promising to relocate at least 100 of these disenfranchised workers out west to work in its Elysian Fields. (Gee, folks, just what we need in a province that exports its talent as readily as it does its lobster). And, Mr. Fracchia, does appear genuine when he declares, “We had high hopes for Picadilly and my heart goes out to all the people who have worked so very hard for so long.”

Still, the rotten-egg-stench surrounding this full-scale route is as malodourous as it is familiar in this neck of the southern tundra.

To begin with, why weren’t people who worked for the company and live in the surrounding communities informed of its intentions? Local political representatives said that they were, in effect, gob-smacked by last week’s announcement.

But were provincial government officials also astonished by the pull-out of such an important employer at a time when they were assiduously pursuing their elected bosses’ agenda to build 5,000 new jobs in the province?

How likely is it that none of this reached the highest levels of political attention at cabinet well before the Christmas break?

Then, there are the stated reasons for the move, some of which simply don’t pass any sort of smell test. According to the CBC, Mr. Fracchia insisted “the New Brunswick (Picadilly) mine was the most expensive of its operations because of the geology in the province.” He also said “the decision had more to do with global market forces and (that) there was little the provincial government could have done to help the corporation.”

If this quote is accurate, then the obvious question is: Which is it?

Is the problem related to the “geology” of the province? In that case, why did a supremely successfully exploration and development company, with worldwide operations and the best scientific and engineering advice available to it at the drop of an email, throw two billion bucks into what, it must have known, years ago, would eventually become a losing proposition?

Or is the problem a function of “global market forces” – that is, low commodity prices, which are afflicting almost all resource-extraction industries? Again, though, companies of PotashCorp’s size, reach and sophistication know when to, in effect, hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

Was the unavailability of shale gas in New Brunswick a factor?

Gosh, does the sun rise in the east?

Or does it merely set with no notice, but merely apologies?

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