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COMMENTARY · 2nd January 2010
Walter McFarlane
To get on to the top five list of significant events in Kitimat required some effort. This is not the case for our number 3 selection. In fact, they did very little to get on the list which is quite amazing since what they do is a #1 topic of debate in our community.

Back in 2007... Maybe 2006, I was not reporting the news when it happened, Alcan stated that they had set 3 conditions to go towards the modernization. 1: The union had to sign a collective agreement. This was achieved in the summer of 2007. 2: Environmental approval of the project (as determined by Alcan). This was achieved in December 2007. 3: The BCUC must accept their power agreement. This was achieved in January 2008. 4: Board approval…

Did I just say there were three and then add a fourth condition? That is exactly what happened. So far, the board has approved one fourth of the money needed to modernize the smelter. However, there was more coming. In January 2009, Paul Henning met with Council in camera and Showed up just in time to hear Councillor Gerd Gottschling's New Year's Resolution. He came back to council in February 2009 and talked to them about what was planned at Rio Tinto Alcan.

Effectively, he slapped 3 more conditions on the Modernization. First up, the price of Aluminum had dropped over the last year so it needed to hit a more profitable market price. Second, Rio Tinto was in massive debt after buying Alcan, so they had to get out of debt. Finally, the world economy had to stabilize.

However, throughout 2009, these three conditions became more apparent as being shenanigans rather than matter of fact. Right off the bat, Rick Belmont, former president of CAW 2301 stood up at the council meeting and pointed out that the price of aluminum may have dropped, but that was not the whole story. The truth was that the price of Aluminum had been up in 2008. Then it dropped to slightly less than average, but had started to rise again. Another thought was that what was not calculated into the mix was the smelter would take some time to build, and where would the Aluminum market be then?

Rio Tinto was in debt after buying Alcan. Henning announced cost saving measures and those measures were apparent in the community as there was a lot less funding for charitable events by Alcan. A few groups in the community noticed this. Henning reported to council that Alcan was in the red for the first two months of the year. Then again, although Rio Tinto was in ‘massive debt’ after buying Alcan, they were able to fund 5 billion dollars worth of capital projects for 2009.

As reported by CFTK, the amount of money that Kitimat’s Modernization Project would receive for 2010 was “Several Million Dollars.” Several Million into a 2 Billion Dollar project that has only a quarter of its funds. We’re talking pennies compared to dollars, Mac and Cheese compared to Wine, Foie Gras and Caviar, the works of Arnold compared to the works of Shakespeare.

Kitimat City Council learned that construction costs were down due to the Global Economy. Several projects including walkways and road construction came in under budget. If there was potential to save money while the global economy is down, then why make a stable economy one of your conditions? That is my opinion, I wonder what they were thinking.

Finally, there is the topic of that rumour. What rumour you might ask? Rumour has it that Rio Tinto Alcan was going to make a big announcement at the end of October. We heard it from five very reliable sources: one had predicted Eurocan’s annoucment back in July, one was a pair of Alcan workers, one at a hockey game and the final told us that it had been real after it had been debunked. According to that final source, it was canceled when Eurocan made its big announcement.

Another big topic was the potlines. Pots were burning out all the time and the number of pots that were not smelting aluminum raised every time they were talked about. 150 pots were out the last time we were told anything and that was not taking into account the lines that were closed in 2001. Further rumours emerged from the plant during the summer. One of the biggest rumours was that its emissions were up so high that the environmental agencies would have to shut it down.

Regardless, this year, it has already been announced that the modernization will be working on the power generation for 2010. We really wish that the bigwigs at Alcan would stop working so hard at proving the previous leaders of the town correct.

So our number three selection for our top five events is Paul Henning’s speech at City Council on February 9th of 2009. Here we get the three fabulous new conditions listed above.

At the beginning of December, we at The Kitimat Daily placed a poll on our website. We asked the people of Kitimat if they had any doubt about whether the modernization would happen. At last count, 78% have doubt, only 22% have not a single solitary ounce of doubt at all. As proven by Time Magazine, even the most secure internet poll is fallible. I have this to add: to the 236 people who have doubt: thank you for being honest; to the 68: I hope you are right.

Tomorrow, as 2009 is over, the year in review kicks into overdrive for both July and August. Things really started to build in council as the feud between McLaren and Gottschling grew to the point of no return, dwarfing everything else in Kitimat.