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AbitibiBowater head office in Montreal (Ryan Remiorz)
AbitibiBowater head office in Montreal (Ryan Remiorz)

Abitibi needs sacrifices: Clement Gignac Add to ...

Sacrifices are required to make AbitibiBowater Inc. more competitive if the province is to consider investing in the insolvent paper producer, says Quebec's economic development minister.

Montreal-based AbitibiBowater has been operating under court protection from creditors since April.

Clement Gignac said Monday he wouldn't rule out Quebec becoming a shareholder.

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But first, he said interested parties need to make sacrifices that would reduce production costs by $50 to $75 per tonne to protect jobs because of a North American overcapacity of newsprint.

"Before the government invests or becomes a shareholder in AbitibiBowater, all the partners need to make sacrifices to see if we can reduce production costs in the Quebec plants for fibre and labour costs," he said in an interview.

The former chief economist of National Bank of Canada said "nothing is excluded" about Quebec investing in the company.

However, he insisted the government won't run afoul of the softwood lumber agreement with the United States or repeat the error when the former Parti Québécois government invested heavily but failed to protect jobs at the Gaspesia mill.

Contract talks were suspended last week between AbitibiBowater and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union until governments help with pension and restructuring issues.

Union president Dave Coles said the joint union-company proposal, including the creation of a trust to oversee the pension, would provide employees "with a guarantee of retirement income, and peace of mind during difficult economic times."

"Without it, AbitibiBowater will not have a future in this country," he said in a news release. "This is a solution that allows governments to solve part of a growing social and economic problem without any cash infusion."

Meanwhile, AbitibiBowater announced Monday that former AbitibiBowater chairman John Weaver has resigned from the board of directors for personal reasons.

Mr. Weaver had agreed to stay on the board following the merger of Bowater Inc. and Abitibi-Consolidated to ensure a smooth transition.

 

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