Politicians are offering their sympathies and taking action to soften the blow of the Rabbit Lake mine closure.
On Friday, Premier Wall sent well wishes to those who lost their jobs and says the province’s rapid response team has been deployed to help those 500 Cameco employees.
“It’s a terrible day for northern Saskatchewan for those 500 people that have lost their jobs, at least temporarily,” he said.
The province is deploying rapid response teams to help the laid-off workers find job opportunities, possible training, and brush up on job hunting skills.
But others point out that Cameco is one of the biggest employers in northern Saskatchewan, which could make it necessary for families to relocate for new jobs.
Wall said he sees some hope for renewal in the forestry industry as the US housing market and economy are strengthening.
“The forestry sector in particular might provide some opportunities for people to stay in the north,” he said.
On the federal level, Desnethe-Missinippi Churchill River MP Georgina Jolibois issued a release on Friday, saying “I am deeply concerned about the people who will be losing their jobs because of this news in Northern Saskatchewan. My sympathies go out to these employees and their families in this difficult time.”
Jolibois said she plans to fight to restore funding for regional economic development, with programs like Western Economic Diversification Canada.
In the meantime, Wall said there’s some comfort in the fact that Rabbit Lake is still keeping on 100-plus staff to maintain the mine, especially since India has become a big buyer for Saskatchewan’s uranium.
“I think that if they were giving up completely on Rabbit Lake they would have made the decision to close it down completely and they didn’t make that decision,” he said.
The ripple effect of the Rabbit Lake closure
It’s not only workers at Rabbit Lake mine, but companies that provide services for its operations that will be impacted by its closure.
Northern Resource Trucking (NRT) provides all trucking services to Cameco’s Rabbit Lake, McArthur River, and Cigar Lake operations.
Its president, David McIlmoyl said the ripple effect will be huge for companies like Athabasca Catering, which provides janitorial and catering for Rabbit Lake’s mine and mill.
“Obviously their services are going to be vastly reduced because of the fewer people there; so their revenue’s going to be impacted,” McIlmoyl said.
However, he doesn’t foresee NRT being impacted to heavily. That’s because Cameco is going to up its production at its two other mines to make up for the four million pounds that Rabbit Lake was planned to produce this fiscal year.
The future for the six to eight trucks that were dedicated to Rabbit Lake operations could include “picking up the increased production in McLean Lake,” McIlmoyl said.
Another things that softens the blow – for NRT and for Rabbit Lake workers – is that for the past three years or so, Cameco has done a five-month shutdown that ends in August.
“We had budgeted for the mill being closed from the end of April to the end of August anyway,” Mcilmoyl said.
He acknowledges that job loss of this scale is sad for northerners, but McIlmoyl also says it’s part of the reality in their industry.
“The mining industry typically – whether it’s uranium, or the oil patch or potash or whatever -goes hard when the price is high and production’s high and cuts back quite ruthlessly when the price drops,” he said.
There’s a chance NRT will have to lay off some of its workers later this year, but McIlmoil said NRT has made it through tough times like this before.
“You have to roll with the punches, I mean in 2000 when the prices were down we had some real problems, reduced revenue and that sort of thing. And it’s happening again,” McIlmoyl said.