Cape Bretoners worried after local coal mine recruits in Alberta

Cape Breton residents are cautiously optimistic that the reopening of a coal mine in Sydney, N.S., will help bring jobs to a place where the unemployment rate of 14 per cent is double the national average.

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But a job fair held Tuesday had some concerned that locals could get shut out. That’s because the company planning to reopen the Donkin Mine held its recruitment drive on the other side of the country, in Grande Cache, Alta., where a coal mine shut down on Christmas Eve putting 200 people out of work.

Cape Breton resident Art Baxter, 60, is among the unemployed local miners hoping to land one of the estimated 120 jobs the Sydney mine could bring.

“I’m pretty sure there’s a few guys around, including myself, that did all kinds of mining and can go in there for the next four or five years,” Baxter told CTV Atlantic.

Cape Breton councillor Kevin Saccary, the son of a coal miner and a booster of the project, also said he hopes mining company Kameron Collieries will give locals a crack at the work.

“I believe we have all kinds of qualified individuals,” he said. “I certainly don’t think it should take much effort for the company to have a job fair here.”

Local resident Stewart Wadden, however, pointed out that many miners in Cape Breton are either retired or had moved “out west” and would simply be returning. (Nova Scotia loses thousands of residents each year to Alberta, according to Statistics Canada’s most recent data.)

Wadden is also skeptical that the mine will even open. The company said it’s hoping to start work in the spring.

One reason for skepticism is declining demand, as energy companies are pushed to switch away from coal in favour of power generation that emits less pollution.

Ontario eliminated coal power in 2014 and Alberta’s premier said late last year that that province will phase out coal by 2030.

Even China, by far the world’s biggest coal consumer, has announced a three-year moratorium on new coal plants in an effort to reduce dangerous levels of air pollution.

The depressed market has led to dozens of coal mine closures in the U.S., and the total elimination of coal mining in the U.K.

But Nova Scotia has said it won’t stop using coal until at least 2042, making the province’s power utility a possible customer in the coal market that has so many locals hopeful for work.

With files from CTV Atlantic and The Canadian Press


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