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Workers leaves the AbitibiBowater paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., after the company shut down production Thursday Feb. 12, 2009. (Tara Brautigam/The Canadian Press)
Workers leaves the AbitibiBowater paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., after the company shut down production Thursday Feb. 12, 2009. (Tara Brautigam/The Canadian Press)

AbitibiBowater meets behind closed doors Add to ...

AbitibiBowater discussed its future direction behind closed doors Thursday, less than a day after Quebec politicians granted pension changes required for its restructuring.

The Montreal-based forestry company barred the public and media from its first annual meeting in three years and the first since it exited 20 months of creditor and bankruptcy protection in Canada and the United States.

Annual meetings are routinely open to observers in Canada. But company spokesman Pierre Choquette said the newsprint giant considered the event a private meeting “from a legal standpoint.”

“It's a private meeting so I cannot tell you about the content of what's going on inside, but obviously if there's important decisions we'll be able to comment on them as time goes by,” he said in an interview outside the session.

In addition to meeting behind closed doors, the company also did not provide a copy of newly installed CEO Richard Garneau's speech to shareholders.

Mr. Choquette said Mr. Garneau recently answered media questions after presenting the company's position at a public hearing on a bill at the Quebec legislature that would allow companies, including, AbitibiBowater, to repay the deficit on their pension funds over 15 years rather than five.

Bill 11 was passed into law on Wednesday.

Also attending the meeting besides shareholders were employees and retirees.

In prior annual meetings, representatives of both groups had asked questions of management and raised concerns. AbitibiBowater last held an annual meeting in 2008.

Meanwhile, Mr. Choquette noted that Mr. Garneau also discussed the company's performance and direction with analysts and the media during a conference call a few weeks ago.

In that call, Mr. Garneau said the company was looking at workforce reductions at some Canadian mills as the forest products producer seeks to further squeeze costs to improve profitability.

AbitibiBowater is looking to change its name and move its corporate headquarters to another location in Montreal.

It exited a painful restructuring from bankruptcy protection with wage and benefit reductions that range from eight per cent for forestry workers to 17 per cent for pulp and paper employees.

AbitibiBowater is still working to finalize efforts to achieve four per cent efficiency gains approved by unionized workers.

The company has cut more than 6,000 jobs and dramatically reduced its paper and wood capacity by shutting down mills as it prepared to exit creditor protection.

It recently closed one machine at its Baie Comeau, Que., plant. The move reduced 120,000 tonnes of annual production and cost 95 jobs.

AbitibiBowater employs 11,000 workers, including 7,200 in Canada.

The company earned US$30 million, or 31 cents per share, in its first quarter. The profit included a $14-million tax benefit.

Total sales increased 7.7 per cent to $1.19 billion from US$1.1 billion a year ago.

AbitibiBowater is a global leader in the forest products industry. It North America's largest newsprint producer and also makes commercial printing papers, market pulp and wood products.

It owns or operates 18 pulp and paper mills and 24 wood products facilities located in the United States, Canada and South Korea.

AbitibiBowater produces newsprint, commercial printing papers, market pulp and wood products at 23 pulp and paper mills and 30 wood products operations in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Korea.

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