Rally to support laid-off workers blasts government for delaying reopening
IAN NATHANSON firstname.lastname@example.org @CBPost_Ian
GLACE BAY — “Miners matter! And Donkin Mine matters!”
That message, relayed by Cape Breton Regional Municipality Deputy Mayor James Edwards, was heard loud and clear among the roughly 150 people who gathered at a rally outside Glace Bay Miners Museum in support of Donkin Mine employees recently laid off from the Kameron Coal-owned facility.
But the bigger message from Edwards, who sits on the mine’s community liaison committee and who organized Tuesday’s noon-time rally, and several guest speakers was to relay to the provincial government that the mine needs to reopen — and soon.
“Why do we want to save it?” asked Edwards. “We’re looking at in excess of 150 direct jobs — and when you put in the spinoff jobs on that, you’re looking at a huge industry.”
A stop-work order issued by the provincial Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration has halted operations at the mine since mid-July. A consultant, a civil and resource engineering associate professor from Dalhousie University has been reviewing the causes of the roof fall — and found seasonal changes and humidity impact roof stability in the mine.
Last Wednesday, the consultant, Dr. Andrew Corkum, spoke at a news conference and recommended a twophase approach to address the trouble.
Still, that doesn’t wholly address why the mine can’t soon return to normal operations, said A.J. Hall, one of several speakers who criticized the provincial government for delaying the reopening.
“We were told we were doing everything we needed to do so the mine would stay open,” said Hall, a mine worker from Glace Bay who’s been employed by Kameron Coal since last October. “It wasn’t until the last of my crew was laid off that a government official actually came out and said it.
“It’s disheartening. They knew stuff all along, but just wouldn’t come out and tell us — and decide to add more work on top of it, as if it was our fault that we didn’t do it.”
MOVING OUT WEST
Worse, mine worker James Matheson said he has found new employment out west and is set to leave Cape Breton as early as Wednesday.
“Pretty much anyone that wanted a job out there will be shipping out the end of this week or next week,” said Matheson, also of Glace Bay. “It’s unfortunate but we got families to feed.”
Matheson felt the stopwork order in place had nothing to do with safety concerns.
“There’s quite a push from the public, complaints whether it be about the fans, the conditions of the roads and the coal trucks. Our elected officials have been feeling the pressure from the public to shut down the mine.
“I worked under the roof they deemed unsafe day in and day out. If this was about safety, I would not have worked under there.”
‘THERE WERE JOBS HERE’
Derrick Dean, another Glace Bay resident, lived out west for about 30 years before he decided to head back to Cape Breton upon learning of a job at Donkin Mine. He started working at the mine in February and managed to get five months of work in.
“I came home because there were jobs here,” Dean said. “I moved home with the family, got a good job, everything’s going good. Then now I’ve got nothing. What am I going to do now, move back out west?
“It would cost me all the money to move home, with my family — I’ve got two
young kids, my wife and I’m living with my mother in her basement. Because we were going to buy a house here.”
Dean said he found it safe working at the mine. But with the stop-work order still in place, his future of seeing the mine reopen and resuming his job isn’t looking good.
“Politicians aren’t helping; nobody seems to be helping out,” he said.
NO COMMENT FROM MACLELLAN
Several politicians did attend Tuesday’s rally — including CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall, councillors Gordon MacDonald, Ken Tracey and Darren Bruckschwaiger, as well as Sydney-Membertou MLA Derek Mombourquette. But PC MLAs John White (Glace Bay-Dominion) and Brian Comer (Cape Breton East, whose riding includes the Donkin Mine) were unable to attend due to a PC caucus meeting in Halifax.
Also in attendance was at least one Kameron Coal representative: senior vicepresident of administration Geoff MacLellan, also a former Glace Bay MLA with the Stephen McNeil-led Liberals.
Asked about his thoughts on Tuesday's rally and recent happenings at the coal mine, MacLellan said he could not comment on either matter.
OPTICS OF SAFETY?
Dawson Brisco, president, CEO and director at Morien Resources Corp. — which has a royalty stake in the coal mine, operated by Kameron Coal — said he wasn’t impressed with last week’s consultant’s report.
“It took four months, but he didn’t produce an 80-page report that had a bunch of novel ideas on safety. It was just 12 pages, with three pages of recommendations,” Brisco said.
Brisco insists the mine — and all the inspections that have taken place since its reopening in September 2022 — is safe.
“But is it the optics of
Glace Bay’s A.J. Hall: “It’s disheartening. They knew stuff all along, but just wouldn’t come out and tell us — and decide to add more work on top of it, as if it was our fault that we didn’t do it.” safety? That’s the true question that needs to be asked.”
The suggestion during last week’s news conference that “the ball’s in Kameron’s court” irked Brisco.
“If they want Kameron to even consider coming back, they (the consultant and the government) need to fix the regulator,” he said. “They need to step up … then we might stand a chance.”
‘EVERYTHING IS UNKNOWN NOW’
For now, the mine sits idle. And while it does, Dan MacMillan said he’s pondering what to do next.
“I grew up in a mining family; my father was a miner for 35 years,” said the mine worker and single father from Catalone. “I got the opportunity to start in January at the mine; best job I ever had, and I felt safe the entire time I was there.
“I was able to have a good job and raise my daughter in Cape Breton. And now I’m struggling. Everything is unknown now.”