Justin Trudeau keeps naming this small Ontario town as part of SNC-Lavalin defence, baffling locals
Port Elgin, Ont., is a quiet beach town on the shores of Lake Huron, home to about 8,000 people. But in his defence during the SNC-Lavalin affair, the prime minister has named the town at least three times.
“When we’re looking at potential job losses right across the country from Corner Brook to Port Elgin, Ont., to Saskatoon and Regina to Calgary, Edmonton and Grand Prairie, Alta., and Fort McMurray, we are seeing good jobs right across the country that could be at risk,” Justin Trudeau told reporters in Iqaluit on March 8.
He named Port Elgin in a similar context in Montreal on Feb. 28 and Charlottetown on March 4.
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Of all those communities, Port Elgin is the tiniest. So Global News headed to Port Elgin to see if they’re worried about job losses — and as it turns out, the situation is just the opposite.
“I think Port Elgin’s booming!” said resident Linda Barfoot.
“We’re in a protected bubble here,” said another resident who stopped to watch the Global News video of Trudeau mentioning her town again and again.
That bubble refers to Bruce Power. Twenty minutes down the road from Port Elgin in Tiverton, it supplies a third of the province’s energy and employs 4,000 people full-time. It’s also on the cusp of a $13-billion refurbishment project to extend the life of six of the eight nuclear reactors.
“There aren’t potential job losses at Bruce Power — in fact, there’s a lot of job creation,” said Elizabeth Arnold, who’s lived in town for nearly 40 years. Her husband, she says, used to work for Bruce Power.
“There’s a huge influx of workers for the next two or three years so I’m not sure what [Trudeau’s] talking about when he says Port Elgin, except that it’s a town in Ontario,” said Arnold.
Local politicians tell Global News the so-called boom means new subdivisions are being built, schools are filling up and the challenge is getting enough workers to fill positions.
“We’re the fastest-growing community in our region here on Lake Huron and we’ve been ranked one of the best places to live in Canada,” said Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau.
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But there is an SNC-Lavalin connection to Port Elgin. It’s home to one of more than 130 offices across the country, adding up to about 9,000 employees total. SNC-Lavalin tells Global News it won’t disclose how many people work in each place.
In Port Elgin, the office occupies a single unit in a small strip mall. On the Thursday afternoon when Global News stopped by, there were just a few cars in front.
And Conservative Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb’s constituency office sits right across the street.
“The massive job losses the prime minister is predicting is right over my shoulder,” said Lobb. “It’s 10 or 12 people.”
“I think he has it wrong. SNC-Lavalin’s nuclear division is a tremendous business, they’re adding jobs.”
SNC Lavalin is part of the Major Component Replacement (MCR) project at Bruce Power. SNC has a 40 per cent stake in the Shoreline Power Group Consortium, along with AECOM and Aecon. Shoreline has a $475-million contract for a key part of the MCR, scheduled to begin in January 2020.
In a press release from June 2018, Bruce Power says the overall MCR will “create and sustain an average of 825 jobs annually” over the next 15 years.
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Neither Bruce Power nor SNC-Lavalin would talk to Global News about whether there is any threat to the broader category of nuclear jobs. SNC would not give details about any employment numbers for specific projects and would not confirm whether previously released job numbers in news releases are still accurate today.
Lobb is confident that in a worst-case scenario for SNC, if they are forbidden to bid on government contracts for 10 years, nuclear jobs are protected because this isn’t a government project.
“It’s a business-to-business transaction between SNC Lavalin nuclear and Bruce Power, and regardless of the outcome, it will have no impact on their nuclear division,” said Lobb.
The community’s mayor, however, is less certain about SNC’s future in Port Elgin.
“I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future with SNC-Lavalin, and obviously, that’s a big national issue,” said Charbonneau.
“What we do know locally is that SNC-Lavalin is planning an expansion. They’re looking at adding some additional floor space to the office they currently have, they’re looking at going up to as many as 75 engineers here in Port Elgin.”
“While I’m concerned for those folks who have jobs in our community, who I’d like to continue to have those jobs, I also have a lot of confidence in our local economy in the nuclear sector, in Bruce Power, and I feel good that our success is going to continue and that SNC can come along with that,” Charbonneau said.
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The Prime Minister’s Office tells Global News Trudeau was simply mentioning places across the country where SNC-Lavalin has employees, and the comments were not related to nuclear industry.
Port Elginite Elizabeth Arnold had her own idea about why her town was mentioned by the prime minister: she thinks he just wanted to pick an Ontario town.
“I didn’t even know there was an SNC office here,” said the nearly 40-year native.
“It could have been any town, but I think if he picked Toronto, which is a huge city, people are not very sympathetic to hearing what’s happening in Toronto — sorry,” Arnold smiles.
“Port Elgin is your average quasi-rural community.”
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.